It's almost that time of year again, when all you have to do to help a hungry person is just leave a few things in a bag by the mailbox.  

Yep, you guessed it.  Time for the National Association of Letter Carriers' Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive.

For all of you who've heard about the increased demands on food banks, community pantries and feeding centers and promising yourselves you're going to "get around to donating," helping the hungry couldn't be easier.  They're going to get around to you.

Carriers collect non-perishable food donations left by mailboxes and in post offices and deliver them to local community food banks, pantries and shelters. Nearly 1,500 local NALC branches in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands are involved in the drive.

Got it?  All you have to do is walk to your pantry, take out some non-perishable food items--cans, sealed boxes and bags, etc.--pop 'em in a bag and take it out to the mailbox.  It really couldn't be simpler.

Or more important.  Despite a nominal economic recovery, millions of Americans remain food insecure.  Feeding America (Second Harvest) alone assists over 37 million Americans every year.

Let that sink in.  More than 12% of your countrymen get food assistance.  And they're just the ones who ask for it.  So many more don't even know it's there, or are too proud or ashamed to ask for help.

There is nothing fun or virtuous or noble about hunger.  It brings so many different feelings--fear, helplessness, anger, shame--along with its own, inexorable, unsleeping demand.  It is the worst of companions and the cruelest master.  If you are fortunate enough to have never battled relentless, raw, gut-rumbling hunger, count your blessings.  It's an experience that simply cannot be conveyed with words or pictures.

One fellow came pretty close, though.  Michael Nye spent over four years traveling America, photographing hungry people on his old 8x10 view camera, spending several days with each subject, interviewing them and documenting their lives.  An exhibition of his images and their words was recently mounted at the Witte in San Antonio.

NPR did a story on the exhibition and broadcast a few of Nye's interviews with his subjects.  Listen to the report.  Hear these people tell their stories in their own voices.  They are eloquent and devastating.

One account is by a woman who was hit by a truck and, unable to work, ended up living in her car:

"I've had many times where I've had no food at all," Helen says in her recording at the exhibition. "I've had times when I've gone into the grocery with my purse and stole a bag of baloney. How do you explain that? Getting up the courage to walk in and do it? Being so hungry, it destroys your will. You look in the mirror, and you don't know who you are ..."

Another was recorded by a homeless mother:

"How do you explain to a 2-year-old or 4-year-old there's nothing to eat? All they know is that they're hungry. And the pain in their stomach. And you try to sit there and say, 'Honey, I'm sorry. I don't have anything to cook you. I don't have nothing to give you. I have nothing.'"

Nye's work comes pretty close to conveying what it's like to live with this monster, what it is to be bad hungry, so bad you know you're probably a little crazy from it, so bad you feel like you should scream, but, hey, your judgment's pretty suspect, so maybe keep it to yourself, don't make a scene.

That's the monster, the dragon too many of your countrymen are up against, every day.  

Every year, on the second Saturday in May, your postal pals invite you to be a dragon slayer.  And you don't even have to go anywhere.  

But you do have to act.  So get to it.  Grab some cans, some pouches, some boxes.  Bag 'em up.

Stand between your neighbor and the monster.

Yes, May 8th is two weeks away.  Don't think I won't be reminding you again.  This diary is simply to offer a heads up, a chance to grab a couple of extra items on your coming grocery runs.  (New items are de rigueur for food drives; if it's too old for you to eat, why are you giving it to somebody else?)

If, lord love you, two weeks is too long to wait to help someone lay that monster down, click on the Feeding America link above to find your nearest food bank, community pantry or feeding center and donate now.  'Round here, our heroes are found at Second Harvest of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana, to which members of this great community were uncommonly generous last year.  They noticed, trust me.

A bit of lagniappe:  After seeing Mr. Nye's photographs and hearing the stories of the people he met, I was transported back to less lovely times, when the monster and I were intimate.  I tried--in vain--to convey a sense of our negotiations in a song called The Monster.
                                                     (copyright 2010 Louie Ludwig/zzi music.  All rights reserved, etc. etc.)

Not the most elegant cut, though it's helped immensely by Dayna Kurtz's slide work (thanks, hon).

It isn't much of a dance tune, I know, but it's great music for bagging up groceries by.  Hint, hint.

Originally posted to Crashing Vor on Fri Apr 23, 2010 at 09:21 PM PDT.

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