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The Empty Box

empty boxThe boxes were big – really really big/ And there was one for my brother and one for me. They were  among the first gifts to appear under our Christmas tree, and my brother and I couldn’t have been more excited.

We were ten and twelve years old that year – old enough to know that our parents were practical and extremely unlikely to splurge on anything expensive AND impractical. But we were ten and twelve years old that year –  young enough to be hopeful and confident that the boxes were too big to actually hold anything practical.

We were wrong.

On Christmas morning,  we both tore into the large boxes, which simply revealed what we had known in our hearts all along: our  parents were extremely practical.

Inside each large box was a puffy winter coat. To us, the boxes might as well have held nothing at all.  My brother and I were both devastated. Our mom had actually wrapped winter coats in beautiful packages with elaborate bows as though the gifts were incredibly special.

As an adult, I can appreciate the presents and that my parents wanted to ensure our warmth. But as a child, I felt like I had been fooled. Sometimes I feel like I’m still being fooled or, just as often, I’m fooling myself.

I still jump to conclusions based on the appearance of a box without knowing what’s inside. For example, I was recently discussing the backpack program, in which food is sent home with students who may not have enough to eat over a weekend. For some reason, the discussion turned to a specific neighborhood, and I said, “Why waste time in that neighborhood, shouldn’t they should focus on neighborhoods where children are really hungry?”

The neighborhood in question has large homes with spacious, well-manicured lawns.

“Because there are hungry children in some of those homes,” I was told.  When I started to argue, I was put in my place. “Some families bought those houses in hopes that the value would grow. At the time, they didn’t have  enough money to furnish them. Now, their houses are worth considerably less than they owe, and they are struggling just to make the bare minimum payment.  They have no furniture and often can’t afford food. There are hungry children in side those big, empty houses.”

And I realized those houses are like pretty boxes. We think we know what is inside, but we are often wrong.

This week is Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, and I hope everyone will take some time to think about boxes: empty ones and ones we can fill up with food for hungry families. This year, our help is needed more than ever.  SNAP (formerly food stamp) benefits have been cut, and nonprofit organizations are receiving less support from the government than in previous years. That means our hungry and homeless are depending on community members.

Let’s fill up those empty boxes.