Hunger at Home

November 22, 2016

Hunger is too often summarized in a deluge of statistics, but it has very tangible, personal impacts on the lives of those it affects. For a number of students at Los Altos, hunger has forced hastened responsibility and maturity as students not only have to handle the stresses of school and being teenagers, but also worry about where their next meal comes from.

Senior Maria Ortega has had to deal with both these challenges. Because Maria’s parents have had to work long hours to afford the living cost of Silicon Valley, Maria and her siblings have grown up quicker than others might have to and assumed adult responsibilities very early in their lives.

Four years ago, Maria’s dad lost his job and her stepmother was injured and unable to work. Having enough food in the house became a concern for her family, and they looked to the community and government resources for support.

“We were living off the Woman, Infant, and Children [program] and food stamps, and we’d have to go to our church and they’d give us food,” Maria said. “That felt really shitty, all the time.”

Maria’s circumstances have warranted a heightened respect for her parents and the sacrifices they have made in order to support her and her siblings.

“Our parents would eat less and we would eat more, which felt really bad, because you knew they were hungry and tired but they just didn’t want you to see that,” Maria said.

Though her situation has improved since then, Maria still needs to support her family. She works 40 hours a week at In-N-Out, the equivalent of five days of full-time employment per week, with more long hours of schoolwork.

“I started working during the summer,” Maria said. “I haven’t been asking my dad for money, because I don’t want him to feel the pressure to buy new things, make me happy or make sure I have things I need.”

Maria isn’t the only one who has to take on greater responsibility: Maria’s entire family has to bear heavy burdens to get through tough times.

“[In families like ours,] both parents have to work 12 hours a day and [we] are still not able to make ends meet,” Maria said. “The older sibling could be 12 and have to pick up and take care of all of [the other children], learn to cook, clean — basically learning everything a mother would have to do.”

Senior Jennifer Vieyra faces a similar situation: after her father passed away last year, she immediately started working. Jennifer currently works 13 hours every weekend to help lessen the financial burden her family faces. During the school week, Jennifer prioritizes her schoolwork and other responsibilities. Jennifer has adapted similarly to Maria, assuming the role of a financial provider for her family.

Both Maria and Jennifer have struggled with having a stable food supply in their homes, and though there are resources available, it often isn’t enough. Now that the girls are over 17 years of age, they are no longer eligible for some of the government aid they received in the past.

In spite of her family’s difficult situation, Maria is able to maintain an optimistic outlook.

“[We have] enough money for the food that we need, enough food to survive,” Maria said.

But mere survival isn’t enough: our community needs to come together to assist families like Maria and Jennifer’s so that all residents of this area can benefit from Silicon Valley’s prosperity. While we look to statistical analyses of hunger in order to quantitatively assess the issue, it is important to remember that there are real people behind these numbers, and the organizations who work to combat this issue will positively influence the lives of countless families.

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