Hunger leaves many scars in the lives it touches. Not just physically–no, hunger leaves emotional and spiritual scars. Scars that are not easily healed, even with the passing of time. Without food and proper nourishment, it is hard to go about one’s daily tasks. When one has to worry about where their next meal will come from, focusing on other aspects of their lives can be incredibly difficult. But hunger is not only in the physical sense of needing food–there are those who hunger for more…companionship, compassion, dignity. Community. Justice. And while physical hunger may be what leads people to Friedens in the beginning, these emotional and spiritual hungers are often what brings them back.
Hunger is just one aspect of poverty that Friedens aims to address, a fact I learned after my tenure with Friedens began in September 2021. Poverty’s roots run deep, and the hold it has on people’s lives cannot be healed over a single night. Providing food may be a temporary solution to someone’s immediate need, but in order to continue to combat hunger and poverty, other routes must be taken.
Over the past 9 months of service, I have seen the impacts that hunger holds on the lives of the Milwaukee community. I have seen the ways in which poverty influences the daily lives of those who visit our food pantries. As we often say at Friedens, poverty is not a problem to be fixed but a wound to be healed. I have learned to embody that idea during my past 11.5 months of service.
While I have volunteered for almost 20 years of my life, there was nothing that quite prepared me for the time I would have at Friedens. Each day is unique, presenting its own set of challenges, responsibilities, and rewards. There have been days when I have not had to worry about anything. There have been days when people have negative reactions to me, resulting in threats or derogatory remarks. And there have been positive days filled with love and praise. And the reality of all these days is that I would not change even a single one.
I have met people who will create lasting impacts on my life–both volunteers and pantry visitors, both positive and negative. I have met people who have looked into the face of poverty their whole lives–and yet many are still hopeful for the days yet to come. It is no secret that the areas we work in are some of the most impoverished communities in the Milwaukee area. All of the individuals we meet have their own stories and journeys. Some may have been previously incarcerated. Some may be substance abusers. Some may be sex workers. Some may be experiencing homelessness. What I have learned during my time is that it is not my right to judge the life experiences of someone when I cannot even begin to imagine the pain, suffering, and trauma that they have endured. The barriers that they have faced do not begin and end with poverty–the barriers are a mix and mash of often years upon years, generations upon generations, of poverty, inequities, prejudice, and more. It has been, and never will be, my place to judge their lives.
For the past 9 months, I have fallen in love with the community I serve. A rollercoaster of emotions through loss, compassion, love, hope, and more. I am brought back and reminded each day of the strength of those who visit our pantries, and those who choose to volunteer with us, and it is for these reasons that even after my worst days, I will still roll up my sleeves and get to work, for poverty is not a wound that will heal itself.
–Aubrey Fochs, Former AmeriCorps Volunteer and Outreach Manager