March 2, 2012

Faith, Hope and Charity / David Siler

'It wasn't my turn today'

David Siler"Tommy" and his family recently moved back to Terre Haute, and Tommy was enrolled in the preschool program at Ryves Hall, a program of Catholic Charities.

One recent winter Monday morning, Tommy showed up for preschool around 9:30 a.m., and the staff noticed that Tommy was not his normal, cheerful self. He was distracted, tired and explained that he just didn't feel well.

The teacher took Tommy aside and sat down with him to see if she could find out what was going on.

He told her that he had a headache and that his stomach was upset.

The teacher replied, "Perhaps I should call your mom so you can go home since you don't feel well."

Tommy became anxious and replied, "No, please don't do that. I really have to be here."

The teacher pressed him further, saying, "You seem tired today. Did you get enough sleep last night?"

"I think so," answered Tommy.

"Did you fall and hit your head?" asked the teacher.

"No," Tommy replied.

"What about dinner? Did you have something to eat for dinner last night?" the teacher asked.

"Yes, I ate dinner. We had dinner at the soup kitchen," Tommy said. The soup kitchen is another program of Catholic Charities.

The teacher asked, "Did you eat breakfast this morning? Maybe you ate something that upset your stomach."

"No," Tommy said. "I didn't have breakfast today. We have a lot of people that live with us, and it wasn't my turn today."

It is simply unacceptable and a moral outrage that one in four children in Indiana are "food insecure," meaning that, just like Tommy, they don't know when or how their next meal will come.

Simply put, it means that hunger is a regular part of their lives.

In Vigo County, where Terre Haute is located, slightly more than 50 percent of all school-aged children are on the free and reduced lunch program.

Catholic Charities is one of the providers of the weekend "Back Pack Program," where students can take home a back pack of food so that they can eat during the weekend.

At Catholic Charities, we feel honored and privileged to help fill in the gaps created by hunger, loneliness, lack of hope, homelessness and other things, but we would sure love to be put out of business.

Realities like Tommy's life should spur us on to do two things—feed the hungry at our door today and work to change the world so that Tommy, and other children like him, don't have to wait for their turn to eat.

Tommy's story leads me to ask the question, "What have we done to create a society within the richest nation in the world where one in four children battle hunger?"

Some things are very seriously wrong but, more optimistically, I offer that we have within our capability the means to make this problem disappear.

To learn more about the issue of hunger in Indiana, read a copy of the first-ever statewide hunger study at

(David Siler is the executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities and Family Ministries. E-mail him at

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