Sunday, March 17, 2013

Looking Back...

So, I am finally sitting down to do this final post.  I have been avoiding this post simply because I do not know the answers. And it seems, that in my life, I have developed the worst possible coping mechanism for that- I simply carry on as if the issue does not exist.
So, a food desert.  I do not even know where to begin.  It is ridiculous. I think I have written that statement too often this week, but I feel that it is the truth.  Why do people have to deal with that?  Shouldn't there be some unwritten rule that says people can have access to healthy food with ease?  No human should have to ride a bus for 3 hours to buy an apple that isn't even as favorable as it should be. However, I don't know how to fix it. I think that many people may realize the issue, but have similar coping mechanisms to me, and will simply avoid that issue because it is messy.  But I am willing to dive in and figure it out.  I really do think that there is a profit to be made, but I also know very little about financial things, so the profit might actually be slim to none.  But what about the general  principal of giving people the things they need even if it isn't to your biggest benefit? I realize that is not high on many CEO's list, but  it should be.  Like I said before, I don't really know how to fix it, as you can clearly tell from my ramblings about being good people, but I am more than willing to learn.  I think that could be the key- make the people making these decisions learn about the issue, experience the issue, and then rethink their ideas.  I would bet that if someone who was clearly against bringing a grocery store to the area was to experience a week of WIC wages and public transpiration, they would at least consider the other side a little more.
The week itself, was not horrible, but something I would never willing do again.  $4.32 can stretch a lot father than you think.  I think that if people receiving WIC or other federal installments were informed on ways to conservatively shop and prepare food healthily, it would be much more manageable, but it is not something readily taught.  The biggest issue I faced was finding food, not affording the food.  Eating healthy is something that everyone wants to be able to do- at the church food pantry, people were asking and thanking us for the extra vegetables.  It is something that they would otherwise not be able to obtain, but something that they want.
I honestly do not know where I am going with any of these ramblings other than what ever we do, it needs to be done as a whole, and that nothing will be noticed if we don't draw attention to it.  ( I realize that I didn't really cover either of those topics in the previous parts, but I had intended to but wasn't quite sure how to tie them in...)
So, to conclude my posts, Thank You, PQC for the opportunity that I had.   Thank you for accepting me, and including me.  I never felt like the outsider that I was, and most importantly, you all taught me very valuable lessons- most of which involving the value of team work and companionship.  If for no other reason, I am glad that I was able to come on this trip so I could meet all of you!  I wish  you all the best moving forward, and if I can ever help in the progression of ending this food desert, please let me know, because I want it to be gone as much as the next person. Bye for now, I am sure we will cross paths sometime soon!
Codie Robinson

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Day 5 and Reflections from Home

I just finished eating the most glorious breakfast (2 hours ago when I started this post...sorry, it's pretty long!) now that I am back home with much easier access to food: 3 slices of toast with butter and Vegemite. Yep, I thought I would want something fancy like an eggwhite omelet stuffed with veggies and bacon and garnished with fresh herbs, maybe a muffin on the side. But the reality is, I got home late last night, unpacked, cleaned up and passed out for 9 hours and all I felt like eating was my usual + 1 extra slice. So that left me with a simple breakfast and you know what, it was delicious! 

Periodically throughout the week I felt guilty that I could eat so well and have access to such a variety of options. But the more I think about it, I don't think we should feel guilty about our circumstances (unless of course they are gained through selfish or immoral means). Rather, we should be thankful. That thankfulness should be what drives us to action. The reason I eat so well is due in part to my proximal location near three grocery stores (1 within walking distance if I'm willing to walk down a busy street) and a Walmart. However, another reason is due to my choices. I was raised in a household that prepared meals and taught me how to as well (**disclaimer- I am still NOT as good at this as my mom!). This year I am grateful to live with my grandmother who basically ONLY eats fresh foods. She has taught me how to make a meal from almost nothing. I know and appreciate the value that comes from that. It takes longer, yes. But it's simpler, healthier and overall, much cheaper. I'm down for simple living.

Now what does that have to do with anything? Well, last night Dr. Sorrell the President of PQC took the 14 of us to dinner in Downtown Dallas. It was a quaint hamburger diner and I must say, that food was perfect after this week. My body was sore from farm work and I think that the guacamole cheddar cheeseburger and onion rings lifted my spirits enough so I could make the 3.5 hour drive back :) It was nice to spend our last hour with the folks we grew to understand and love over the last few days. The President facilitated discussion and asked various questions from both the PQC students and the ACU students. One which went unanswered was "so what are we going to do about this?".

There are no easy answers. And from what I heard, no one really offered any suggestions. The root of the food dessert problem is very complex. You can probably see that from my other posts so I won't go into more detail. To lobby for a grocery store wont solve anything. To put up a grocery store doesn't solve anything. To stop a landfill from spreading doesn't solve anything. So what are we to do? I feel rather hopeless but I know that things like this take time...and our *mind clocks* have to remember that. But where do we start? Especially as an ACU student headed back home? What can I do here? What can the PQC students who live right in the midst of the issue do? I will say, I concede. Something must be done. For a working mother to have to take her children (because in these neighborhoods it wouldn't be wise to leave young kids alone) with her to get decent groceries the problem escalates. She has to pay the bus and train fare ($2.50/person), trek them the mile or so to the bus stop, wait for the bus (we waited 20 minutes because we barely missed the last one), find seats on the bus, get to the train station and wait (we waited 10 minutes), take the train, get off and walk (we probably walked across a busy 4-lane street and through several sketchy parking lots) to the grocery store.

 First of all, managing to get 5 college kids safely across some of those streets is questionable haha, yet alone children? This wouldn't be an issue if fathers could watch children...or neighbors...or if this trip only needed to be made once a week. But imagine you get your groceries (my parents and my grandma buy the bulk of groceries after they pay the bills after pay once or twice a month a big purchase is made) every two weeks (most hourly laborers are paid on 2-week rotations). How many bags is that? I'm estimating based on my household growing up, I'd say 10-11 bags. Can you carry that? Will it be light enough to split among young kids? What if a child isn't walking yet? Now maybe you're smart and you have a wagon. What about the kids? The average household in these neighborhoods have 3-5 (and often more) children. Watch them, carry your groceries and get all the way back to your apartment an hour and a half trip away. Should you have a car and are able to afford to drive it, the trip isn't a big deal. My mom carted us kids (4) with her to the grocery store (and taught us that we do not need the candy in the checkout isles). It wasn't ideal and didn't happen too often, but if she needed to she could do that. But the reality is, most rely on public transportation (which is good! We shouldn't think that we need to simply provide single households with cars!!). So what can we do? Are you realizing the complexity of the issue?

 I am throwing the Food Stamps and WIC arguments out of this conversation. Some may argue that that is an issue- but after this week I do not believe it is. That money was sufficient to feed me, and as the number of mouths increased, it actually became MORE sufficient  The issue is awareness and education -- teaching people how to make healthy decisions, that quick fix meals are not the solution and how be good stewards of their finances. Then another issue is the lack of access to food in the neighborhood. The access isn't there though because people don't recognize the need. They continue to make the trip. However, let's look deeper. I may have believed at the beginning of the week that everyone living in the Projects across the street were lazy government free-loaders who don't work. That is an unfair assumption. From observation, many do work but why isn't that enough? Also from observation I can see that the typical household is a single mother or grandmother raising 3-5 kids. Where are the husbands? It has been proven that households with steady marriages have higher financial standards of living. Why is this? Because there are two incomes coming together to feed a household rather than one. If only one person is working, as can rightfully be the case, then the other parent can watch the children without incurring childcare costs. I think the assumption is made (because I have heard it before) that the "rich" don't have to work...but it is misunderstood. My family is far from rich and through conversation with the other ACU students (who I just got to know this week btw) the three of us come from hard working middle class families. Some of our parents went to college and some didn't. Our households may have struggled at times, we have enjoyed a reasonable life. But we each have a set of married parents who both work. When my siblings and I were younger my mom stayed home for a while. I know that many of my peers had similar experiences. Our parents chose not to pay for childcare. A lot of this issue comes down to choices and relationships

So again I ask, where do we begin? It would be wrong for the three ACU students to go home and never consider the issue again, completely disregard our experience. God calls us to use our circumstances to help the poor. One of the most consistent references in Scripture is to the poor and marginalized. God cares deeply for them and commands that we are to as well. In fact, there is the story of the rich man in the new testament. He is thrown into hell and the only thing we know about him is that he didn't care for the poor (Luke 16:19-31..I recommend looking it up). Right now I don't have an answer as to what the ACU students can do- BUT I do know that we can be praying for God to be at work and use the PQC students and then if He would desire, to show us something that the ACU students could do. I firmly believe that the change has to come from the people who live there. Outside help will not be received well and could demean the community, making them feel incompetent to solve their own issues. No, these people, even those in the Pink and Greens have value, capabilities and worth. They CAN be the change. But right now they don't realize it. The PQC students can lobby for grocery stores all they want, maybe even get one put in, but in the end it will fail. Not because they did anything wrong but because the community is not aware and does not recognize the need, is not in a place to support it, to see that they could afford it if willing to prepare meals and so forth. SO...what now?

We start with the kids. 

I already mentioned this idea but I strongly believe it is the first step. To attack the root of the problem, choices and relationships we have to begin by investing in the Pink and Green kids. If each PQC (or even half of the student body- so 125 students) student committed to one child for their four years at PQC change could begin. It won't be easy and may not be receptive but what if we created fyers/notes to deliver to the local elementary school where the Pink and Green kids go. On it, it would say something like "looking for an afterschool activity one night a week? Paul Quinn students would like to create a buddy program". We arrange it so that participants take their flyers home and show their parents. Now, realistically, either the kids wont care and not show their parents or they will be excited, show their parents but the parents won't care...and no response will occur. So the next step is to get all the interested PQC students (they MUST be committed at this point) across the street. They begin investing in the lives right here as they walk to the doors of the kid's homes and personally introduce themselves and explain about the note that went home and that they would like to hang out one night a week. Hopefully, even if just to get the PQC students out of their hair, the parents agree. Then we work with the bus system or perhaps a PQC student or two can commit to walking all the participants from their school, on say Thursday afternoon, to the We over Me farm. For just 2-3 hours every Thursday that child has a place to go and one person who will truly be there for them. This one student would commit to the child for the four year course, so long as the child consents to participating that long. The relationship forms. These weekly meetings include games and homework time with help from their "big brother" or "big sister" who cares about them. Then also, it incorporates farm work. TOGETHER, they weed or plant seeds (whatever needs to be done). Then as crops yield they sample different things. My guess is the kids will be hungry, so a carrot serves as a snack. TOGETHER the PQC student and the P&G child learn the benefits of healthy foods and hard work. TOGETHER they learn how to make dishes with this food. The P&G child begins to learn that their bodies need these healthy foods to grow big and strong. When the spring season rolls around the children get to help with the selling of produce (I think I remember the We over Me farm saying they set up a stand). They learn the value of money and that hard work pays off. They engage in sales at a young age. They become excited about the process and begin bugging their parents. Maybe the parents have a few quarters to spare so walks across and purchases a few cucumbers. Dialogue has now begun between child and parent and the door is open now for parent and PQC. Education and awareness is fostered with this new relationship

This sounds great and I'm guessing you're probably shaking your head that it's too much and couldn't work. Perhaps. But I really believe it could work and in time  it could impact the community. Once the members realize what they have been missing out on the change will come.

C.S. Lewis said something in his book, The Weight of Glory, that I have always tried to remember. It has been very true for me and I think it applies here. "We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and lust and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to keep on making mud-pie in the slums because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a vacation at the beach." 

In my life, I have missed out because I settle. I have settled for mediocre in my academic work, thinking that good enough is okay. I have settled as an athlete back when I used to swim and every set required 100% but I would give 90% because it hurts and sure, qualifying for Speedo Sectionals was a good accomplishment. What would have happened had the 100% been there? Oh, I have settled in relationships, holding out in fear because I think that I could never deserve or be good enough for someone so amazing. We are all guilty of this. But when we see that the world is bigger, it truly becomes even bigger. When I decided that I wanted to go away from home for school--where the price tag is high-- I had to trust that would God allow, He would provide the means to make it happen. It took applying for endless scholarships and working two jobs, but the world has opened up and God has pulled through more than I ever dreamed. I wouldn't have had this opportunity this Spring Break had I not come to ACU. The independence that my parents instilled in me as a young child may be a vice sometimes but I'm thankful for their instruction to think carefully and not fear making choices. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that the opportunity for change is here. It is ready. But it will take time and investment. I don't hold on to doubt that this community can change and no longer be the epitome of poverty and food desserts. 

But action has to start and start small. Let enthusiasm rise and propel the movement forward, enthusiasm from the very people it effects. I'm passionate about this- hence the novel I've just written in this post- but I can't change it. It's gotta start in South Dallas and the PQC students have a good starting place. Thank you for sharing your passion for eradicating the food dessert. I have enjoyed my time here and most of all enjoyed the challenging conversations we had while shoveling mulch and late after supper. Don't give up. I look forward to following this in the years to come.

This not the last day, we are still apart of the experiment.

Technically Friday is the last day of the food desert, but for Paul Quinn College students it's still an actual  harsh reality we face as well as the community. Friday I believe was the best day because we all sat down and had a great discussion over dinner on how food deserts affect people, especially low income families. My main concern is how can we continue to reach the community with this problem because it is imperative that we do. I feel the city would rather build anything else other than a local grocery store that will benefit us all. Doing this experiment has opened my eyes to things that weren't on my mind as much as it should have, how can you live off of $4.32 a day,but I soon found out that there is a strong correlation between the amount of money you have and how healthy you are. The less money you have, the more you buy fast food or unhealthy food that isn't good for your body, but its cheaper. The things we have shown and proven this week are not just theory, however ideas and things that we have proven to be true. To conclude my session I feel you can live off $4.32 a day, but the real question is how long and how healthy will you be?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Day 5

Finally, the last day! What I learned from this experience was that people in this community do not realize that they live in a food desert. That it is normal for them drive ten or more minutes  to a grocery store. I feel that we should educate people on what is happening in our community. I have the upmost respect for those who have to work with just $4.32 a day just to provide for their families. This experience has made me appreciate what I have and realize that I should not take any thing for granted and just be grateful that you are not in that same position.

The end of day 5

Rise and shine 7:00 a.m. as I wake up to get ready for work on the farm ,8:30-10:00 I watered the seeds. Then naya, stephaine, and I went to change to get ready to take a tour to SMU (Southern Methodist University). We caught a ride to the to train and rode it for an hour. Then we took one bus to the campus of SMU. We interviewed three people. We asked them to define what a food desert was and if they could survive off of $4.32 while taking only the bus and train. When they answered yes, I was so puzzled. They didn't understand what a food desert was. We had to explain that. When we toured the campus of SMU, we found so much stuff that was nice. After we arrived back at Paul Quinn, we got ready to have dinner with Prez, which was nice. I was so grateful to take part of this project and this was a great learning experience.

Homeward Bound, Day Five...

So, I write this post as I sit in an empty dorm room, waiting for 5 p.m. to roll around so I can begin my journey home. I am SO ready to see familiar faces and places for a few days!
However, this week has literally been wonderful. I have had my thought provoked and influenced, and learned much more than I had planned to. I am thankful that I was blessed with this opportunity, even though it was lots of work. This week, I learned to stretch a dollar. If you would have told me last week that I would be able to survive "comfortably" on $4.32 a day, I would have laughed you out of the room. There is no way I could have done that if I didn't have to. I guess, the right word is would. I proved that I can, just something that I do not enjoy. I will admit that throughout this journey, never once was I famished or deprived of food, and while not extremely healthy, I also avoided fast food to the best of my ability. It is possible. When you are able to ride a bus. And a train. And still walk a while. And carry all of your food. Alone. In the middle of the day. So, pretty much unless you are doing this as a single adult, at 2 pm, it isn't feasible.  Yet somehow, people still can manage. I give them  my utmost respect for that, it is not easy by any means.
Eyeopening is still the best way I can describe any of this. The scary part about that to me is that I have heavily studied the issues of food deserts, and was still blown away by how it actually is.  To walk a mile ( or 15) in someone else's shoes makes all the difference. The craziest part is- no one knows about it. Some people within the community don't even realize that they live in a food desert.  It makes me wonder how much injustice goes on in the world, without people knowing, because it is what is known. I still wonder why no one will invest their time and money. It could be a prosperous place to put a grocery store. You'd have no competition....
Today, after working on the farm and finishing up all of the shelving for the greenhouse, Vina, Jess, Reese and I went to make some deliveries. They were all located in Uptown or West Village, and all incredibly nice places. We went, and met the people that the food from the Farm is sold too, (even an ACU Alum!) and I was very happy to see everyone very interested in ways that they could come and help out at the farm too. They were all really happy to be getting the produce that was grown locally, and ultimately serves a greater good.
Overall, this has been an incredibly memorable week.  I have met awesome people who do awesome work, and have learned many valuable things.  I know what to stand up for, and more over, how to look for things worth time and money- that is a lesson that I learned shopping for food, but can be applied to SO much more than just that situation! I am incredibly thankful that this is not a permanent lifestyle for me, but it makes me want to work so much harder to bring opportunity to communities who need them.
I am so thankful for this opportunity, for these new friends, and new awareness. I am beyond blessed to be at a university that cares about issues like this, and push us to be the change in the world.
So, thank you (again). Now, I am fixing to be on my way, and I think there is still a follow up post that I am supposed to do, so I will be officially signing off soon. Till Then!
Throughout this experience I feel that I've learned the lack of options this community has to buy organic foods is unacceptable .