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Nicki Amos knew that finding dinner was going to be a stretch.

It was evening in suburban Phoenix, and Amos, a single mother with two young girls, was going through a rough patch. She had a job as a cashier, but it barely covered her expenses. Rent was a monthly burden. So were her water bill, her electric bill … even paying for gas.

With money so tight, she even took a risk and drove her car without reregistering it. “I was very strategic in my driving to make sure I didn’t end up in front of an officer,” she says.


Amos and her family, present day. Photo provided by Nicki Amos.

But there was one other serious challenge: Amos had to figure out how she was going to feed both her daughters and herself.

She was under a lot of pressure. Something had to give.

So that night, after making sure she had dinner for her kids, she searched for an affordable meal for herself. What she found was meager, but for the time being, it worked. Amos and a friend, also a divorcee, drove to a restaurant with a bar, where they found a happy hour with complimentary snacks. They nibbled on the finger food. And then Amos went home.  

It was a desperate attempt at a meal, but this wasn’t the worst night she’d had.

On other nights, Amos had to skip meals entirely in order to make ends meet.

After all, she says, her first priority was always her children’s well-being.

Amos' daughters. Photo provided by Nicki Amos.

“As long as the kids were OK, I was OK,” she continues.

She made sure they had a nutritious dinner — even if that meant preparing what she affectionately called “potato chip casserole,” a mishmash of the remaining foods in her cupboard and fridge.

“There was probably a vegetable of some sort and a protein mixed in,” she says. “It was whatever we had and probably a can of cream of mushroom soup.”

But she couldn’t afford to treat herself with the same care. She’d skip a meal here, skip a meal there. She was just doing what she had to do, she reasoned.

And though she bore through her struggles and eventually secured a better job as a district manager of Fry’s, the grocery retailer, Amos had faced a stark reality.

Like millions of other Americans, she was food insecure.

Photo by Bonnie Kittle/Unsplash.

It’s an issue that inspired her to become an activist herself. She began volunteering at the St. Mary’s Food Bank, a nonprofit organization, and later even joined their board of directors. All the while, she spoke out about the broader issue of food insecurity — and the harmful misconceptions about hunger in America.

“It’s not only homeless people who face food insecurity,” she says. “It could be one of your children’s friends. It could be someone you go to church with. And you wouldn’t know it.”

This isn’t just one person’s speculation about a social issue. According to estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, some 41 million Americans were food insecure in 2016. That’s about 12% of U.S. households that, at some point throughout the year, struggled to obtain enough food.

And millions of food-insecure Americans actually belong to ordinary households. Think: two parents, two kids, a house, and a steady income.

For these families, food is often part of an impossible calculus.

Should they buy fresh milk or should the money go toward a gallon of gas? Enough meat for the whole family or medicine for one person?

“Invariably the casualty is food,” says Diana Aviv, the CEO of Feeding America, a national nonprofit that runs food banks across the U.S.

Photo via Feeding America

Aviv says that many large-scale issues force people to make these tough choices. For one, underemployment is widespread: Too many people work part-time and can’t find full-time work.

Many Americans also don’t have a lot in savings. One survey, for instance, found that 57% of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings accounts. With so little reserves, it isn’t hard to imagine how an unexpected ER visit could force a family to cut back their eating.

Aviv says that public policy can hurt people too. Certain federal programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, help families pay for the cost of food. But in many cases, if you make even just a little too much money from your job, you don’t qualify for the assistance.

“Those families in some respects are even worse off,” she explains.

Photo via Feeding America

But if so many people are struggling, why don’t we hear about it more? The answer is simple: People are embarrassed to admit they can’t pay for food.

Over the last year, Aviv traveled the country doing in-depth interviews of people facing hunger. And she found that shame often keeps people from sharing their stories.

“People were incredibly embarrassed about their situation,” she says. “Children in school are not going to put up their hands in classes and say, ‘I’m hungry, please give me food.’”

They’ll be isolated, and there’s a fear that they’ll be teased by their classmates. And so a lot of food insecurity is hidden.”

But the tide does appear to be turning.

The issue has begun to garner more media attention, and on the national level, many companies and organizations are mobilizing to take action.

One campaign called Zero Hunger Zero Waste, spearheaded by The Kroger Family of Companies, a founding partner and major donor to Feeding America, aims to reduce America’s massive problem with food waste, while at the same time helping to end our widespread problem with hunger.

The campaign aims to provide 3 billion balanced, nutritious meals to food insecure households by 2025. And they’re well on their way — the campaign has already donated 330 million meals. They’re also advocating for public policy solutions to address hunger in the United States.

Photo by Nicolas Barbier Garreau/Unsplash.

These efforts highlight the changing attitudes around hunger in America.

“Don’t let pride get in the way,” Amos says. “I’m sure nobody knew what I was going through because that’s not something you want to share with other people. But there are great organizations out there that can help.”

A change of attitude is also key for those who are food secure. It’s important to remember that individuals may be struggling — even if outwardly they look fine, Amos says.

Amos also stresses that, with food insecurity such a widespread phenomenon, we should feel called to action.

“I can’t imagine that many children are going to bed and may be hungry,” she says. “I can’t accept that.”

Former officials from the George W. Bush administration and campaign launched a super PAC in support of presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, declaring they "knew it was time to take a stand." They claim that they seek to unite and mobilize a community that is historically Republican voters. The group, consisting of at least 200 former officials, aides and Cabinet secretaries, formed "43 Alumni for Biden" to block President Donald Trump from winning a second term. They claim on their website that there have been "far too many days filled with chaos emanating from the highest levels of government" and that "political differences may remain among us, but we look forward to a time when civil, honest and robust policy discussions are the order of the day."

When I read about "43 Alumni for Biden," it gave me a great sense of hope. Even though I didn't vote for Biden and I'm not a huge fan, I am liberal and think it's important to accept anyone willing to admit that they are disappointed in their political party. It takes someone with real strength to admit the damage that has been done to our nation by Trump's presidency. It takes even more strength to say they voted for Trump, they were wrong and now they want to fix it.

My optimism has less to do with what side they are on and much more to do with the act of reaching across the isle. Almost all politicians have their heels dug on issues that align with their respective political party. The only thing worse than someone trying to prove that they are always right is someone putting all their energy into proving that their counterpart is consistently wrong.

What is even more counterproductive is the person who waggles the "I told you so" finger in the face of someone who has the audacity to change their mind and actually agree with them. Why anyone would shame someone for having the courage to admit they were wrong is a concept that befuddles me to this day. Yet it happens more often than not. The fear of being ridiculed plays a huge role in our inability to be vulnerable. We have an opportunity to come together as a country. As long as we all grow the hell up.

When a politician changes their stance on an issue whether it is because of new information or just a change of heart—especially after reflecting on things and keeping an open mind, they are labeled as a flip flopper. Somehow it seems like they have more credibility if they can say that they believed something all along because it makes them look smart. Ask yourself, who do you trust more: someone who always says they are right or someone who can utter the words "That's a really good point?" We need to take it upon ourselves to be the bigger person.

Remember all that progress you made in your relationship when you screamed at your partner with guns a blazing telling them how wrong they were. Remember when they responded by telling you that you had excellent points and they would try and do better from now on. Oh, wait. You probably can't because that never happens. But I could be wrong (see what I did there).

Now imagine a time when you might have made a mistake, and your partner speaks to you with tenderness and understanding with the inevitable dash of disappointment because, lets face it, you deserve it. I think we would all opt for the undesirable cherry as opposed to a full on sundae of shame.

We are imperfect emotional beings and protect our psyche like a dog learning the boundaries of a newly installed invisible electric fence. Once our pride gets zapped, we are less likely to venture out as far, and in fact, will most likely recoil deep within the boundaries of our comfort zone.

The people involved with 43 Alumni for Biden have been able to reassess the state of the Republican party to which they held such loyalty. Just because they are supporting a Democrat in Joe Biden, doesn't mean they need to turn their back on their traditional Republican views. This is about more than just taking a step back and putting aside any blind loyalty one might have to their respective political party. It is unclear what percentage of the organization voted for Donald Trump in 2016. I am going to guess not very many punched a chad for Hillary Clinton.

When you vote for someone, you have put your trust in them. That leads to defending any perceived missteps they may have had because you advocated and believed in them. The more controversy there is, the more you feel the need to justify your vote and defend them even more. Then you find yourself defending the fact that you are defending them and believe the negative news coverage is a lie or a smear campaign.

I did it with both Bill and Hillary Clinton in the midst of everything that was being said about them. Then I stopped and thought about what my thought process would be if it was George W. Bush that was being accused of the exact same things. It was the moment I realized I wasn't being honest with myself. The diagnosis? We protect our ego on subconscious and primal level and fear the vulnerability that comes with admitting that we were misguided. Once we are able to face that, we can really get to the core of why we don't budge.

We are going to need all the communication skills we can muster up because if you think the months were bizarre leading up to the 2016 election, I am pretty sure Kanye West has something special planned for us. Buckle your seatbelt and open your minds because just when you thought 2020 couldn't possibly have any surprises, things are about to get even weirder.