The following excerpt from Angelika’s Journal was recently published on the New York State ASCD. Click here to view the article.
I am so embarrassed. Our school tries its best not to let it be known who gets free lunch and who doesn’t. But some girls in my class figured out that I didn’t pay for my meals. One of them tried to be nice and offered me a candy bar but that actually made it worse. When she tried to be generous, her friends realized that I was poor and needed help. It hurt because I really did want that treat but I wasn’t about to let that girl know how bad it was for me.
This weekend we went to a soup kitchen for the first time. Mama told me we’d eaten at soup kitchens before but I didn’t remember. I was surprised at how many people were there. Some of them were very nice. Others scared me. I was afraid that someone I knew might see me there. However, I was so hungry and the food smelled so good, I held my head high, grabbed the hands of my mama and my little brother, and waited my turn to eat. That food was delicious. The people who gave us the food smiled a lot and talked nice to us. I know that Mama ate good and didn’t pretend she’d already eaten.
Hooray. Today is the day we get our food stamp money. We can go to the store and get a roast and cookies and chips and sodas and cereal and cheese and chickens and juice and all kinds of good things to eat. I just wish we could shop like this more than once a month. But for a week or so, we’ll eat real good. I’m happy, happy, happy!!!
In class today we learned about the basic food groups. The teacher told us that we’re supposed to eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Has she ever priced fresh bananas and apples and oranges? Doesn’t she get tired of eating canned beans, canned corn, canned tomatoes, and canned spinach? When and how are we supposed to get all this stuff? I think she needs to find some other report because that one is just crazy!
Guess what the teacher told us today? She said in the late winter or spring, we could plant a garden at our house and grow our own vegetables. Maybe at her house she can do that. We don’t have a yard. Even if we planted a tomato in a pot, someone would steal the tomatoes before we could eat them. This lady lives on a different planet than I do.
Today is Saturday. This morning Ber-ber said, “Come on, girl. I’m taking you to see something you’ve never seen.” I told her that I’d need to ask my mama but she said that she’d already checked with her. So we got on a bus, rode to the transfer station, and caught another bus. I asked Ber-ber where we were when we finally got off the bus.
She said, “Sweet Pea, we’re still in the same town that we were in when we got on the first bus.”
I said, “No way.” This part of town didn’t look anything like where I lived. The streets were wide with curbs and sidewalks. The stores were big and pretty. And not only was there one grocery store or one drugstore, there were several all right there together. I got excited wondering what more surprising things Ber-ber had to show me.
She took my hand and we walked right into the biggest grocery store I’ve ever seen. I kept looking for the brown bananas but all I could see were bright yellow ones. The carrots were hard and not flimsy like in the store back home. There were at least five kinds of apples, not just one. There were fruits and vegetables there I’d never even heard of. What is a kiwi?
Then we went down the aisle where the cereal was. I’ve never in my life seen so many kinds of cereal. Ber-ber told me to look at the price of the kind of cereal we sometimes buy. It was at least a dollar cheaper than at the store near our house.
Every aisle that we went down was amazing. The meat counter had at least a million kinds of meats and none of them were that funny brown color like our hamburger meat is sometimes. I saw goat milk and almond milk. Who knew? And who would want to drink that?
The freezer section had one long aisle just for different kinds of ice cream. I could have bought four ice creams bars back home for what one little bitty box of some of that ice cream cost.
Ber-ber looked at me, laughed, and said, “Girl, put your eyeballs back in your head. I told you I was going to show you something you’d never seen before.”
Boy, was she ever right. We caught the bus and the closer we came to the transfer station, the more familiar things looked. By the time we got home, I felt like I’d been to a foreign country. I’m going to have to think a lot about what I saw today so I can try to remember even half of what I saw.
Today at school we had cupcakes. One of the girls in my class was celebrating her birthday and her mother brought in treats for everyone. My cupcake had pink icing with a yellow flower with green leaves on the top. I’ll never let anyone in my class know when my birthday is because my mama can’t do this. I won’t even tell her what happened today because it will make her feel bad. But I really enjoyed my cupcake. It was so pretty I almost didn’t eat it.
I didn’t do well at school today. I missed the school breakfast because the bus was late. Last night for supper we each had half a bean sandwich. I think that I had trouble paying attention because I was hungry. I heard more from my belly rumbling than I did from what the teacher was saying. Hopefully tomorrow will be better.
Excerpt from Beth Lindsay Templeton, Angelika’s Journal—What You Can Do About Poverty and Homelessness, Avenida Books, 2014