The Slow-Cooked Sentence

Hungry bellies

Rachael Conlin Levy
Children line up for free soup and bread during the Depression.

At 8:50 every Wednesday morning, people bundled against the cold and burdened by their belongings form two lines along Fourth Street. One line is a group of neighborhood children cocooned in their coats and carrying backpacks heavy with homework. The other is made up of adults standing outside a movie theater-turned-mega-church.

“What are they waiting for?” my daughter asked.


“You mean, like communion?”

“No, just food. They’re hungry.”

The New York Times reported this week that despite the recession, the number of people on welfare rolls remained at or near the lowest in more than 40 years. Eighteen states cut their welfare rolls, even as more people received food stamps. (Nevada wasn’t among those. It actually added people to its program last year. For a state-by-state comparison, click here.)

“This clashing trend,” the Times reported, “suggests a safety net at odds with itself. The program’s structure — fixed federal financing, despite caseload size — may discourage states from helping more people because the states bear all of the increased costs.”

To help cash-strapped states deal with the needy, Congress is considering subsidizing the welfare rolls. The economic stimulus bills pending in Congress would provide matching grants to states with increased caseloads.

While politicians debate and bureaucrats react, more hungry people are lining up on Fourth Street. Outside the doors of Sparks Christian Fellowship, more than 100 people gather for their two grocery bags of non-perishable food they’re eligible to receive six times a year. Across the street, Greenbrae Elementary School also gives away food. More than two-thirds of the students receive free lunches, and some of those children eat breakfast and dinner there, too.

These are today’s soup lines, and they’re in my neighborhood.

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