On a hot summer day, I was traveling out to Brazoria County, part of our 18 county service area. That day we would be distributing over 10,000 lbs. of food and providing free social services enrollment to families in need. Every day as a social worker I encountered something new. Little did I know, this day would truly spark change in me.
While setting up for our mobile distribution I noticed children present, strange for a school day. One child in particular was peeking around excited to see the food we were offering. After catching a glimpse, he rushed towards a large stack of strawberries. He yelled excitedly to his mother across the room. “Mommy, mommy they’re just like the picture!” Adrian had never seen nor tasted a strawberry. I learned that Adrian was 5 years old, the youngest of 3 kids in his family. “You’ve never tasted a strawberry?” I asked. Adrian smiled and replied “No, we don’t get strawberries but, they’re just like the pictures I’ve seen in school.” How easy it is to forget the value in something you see every day! We watched as Adrian chose the biggest strawberry he could find. His eyes lit up with pure joy as his first bite savored the sweet flavors of a simple strawberry.
Adrian’s first taste of strawberries reminded me of why I was there, to help children and families escape this type of situation. Adrian’s mother had been laid off again for the second time in one year. After Adrian’s father’s death the year before, the family had been struggling and Marlene was doing the best she could to support the children. Commonly, when income is limited, families are forced to choose cheaper unhealthy alternatives. Thankfully, the Houston Food Bank was able to provide a mobile produce distribution to supplement this local pantry giving families access to fresh produce.
Though we were happy to provide the fresh produce for Adrian and his family, it still didn’t answer the question,why was he not in school? His mother informed us that Adrian was not in school due to lapsed immunizations. Without the proper vaccinations, children like Adrian are not allowed to return to school. Is that why all the other children were not in school too?
At the Houston Food Bank we don’t just distribute food, we take initiatives to help our clients. After reaching out to our community health partners, we coordinated with the pantry director to do another mobile distribution but this time with a mobile clinic. This clinic was able to provide free vaccines for all children under the age of 18 and free health screenings for all. Adrian soon returned to school and my sense of why we do what we do was renewed. Our simple produce distribution event may have allowed him to taste his first strawberry, but our passion and community partnerships got him back in school, and that is equally as sweet.