The exhale of summer. Did you hear it?
This week, Washoe County school bells rang for the last time this school year, and parents and kiddos across the district breathed a sigh of relief. Like many in our community, my family is looking forward to summer break. I’ve loaded up on sunscreen, dug out our summer wardrobes, and stocked the fridge and pantry with extra snacks. We’re planning trips to the lake, afternoons at some of our favorite community pools, and even a vacation to visit family.
Yes. The exhale of summer.
This morning as I ran about the house getting us ready to head out the door, my son headed into the kitchen to pack his lunch. I froze when I spotted him standing in front of the fridge, door wide open, with a concerned look on his face. Turns out he was contemplating what he deemed “the hardest decision ever – cherries or strawberries?” I tousled his hair and suggested he pack a few of each before launching into a lecture about standing with the fridge open for so long.
The exhale of summer? Something about that vision of my boy standing in the kitchen, staring into the fridge, stayed with me as I dropped him off to summer camp and headed off to work this morning. As I pulled up to one of our Mobile Harvest sites, I found myself lost in memories of summers past.
The thing is, for so many families, there is no sigh of relief when the last bell of the year rings. Parents across our community find themselves faced with added stress, as their already squeezed-too-tight budgets suddenly face higher demand when the free meals their children receive at school disappear for the break. For so many of our kids, these weeks are filled less with the excitement of a carefree summer and more with the nervousness and unease that weeks filled with worry over filling their bellies puts upon their little shoulders.
I was one of those kids. Growing up, putting meals on the table was a frequent struggle for my mom. When summer would hit, that struggle would intensify. More times than not, there simply wasn’t enough wiggle room left in our family budget to absorb the cost of the free meals I’d been receiving during the school year. Even now, my breath catches as I think back on to those days. Week after week of standing in front of the fridge, door wide open, probably with a concerned look on my face as I remembered there wasn’t much in there. As we made our way deeper into summer, I’d just stop looking.
Most of my summer days were spent riding my bike around our small town with my friends. We’d spend our days splashing at the beach or playing at the park. They’d tease me about being off in space while they were trying to talk to me. I could never bring myself to tell them I’d been distracted thinking about food. I was always thinking about food. Eventually, someone would declare they were “starving,” and everyone would grab their lunch boxes and head to a nearby picnic table. Meanwhile, I’d mutter something about forgetting my lunch at home again and giggle with them as they joked about how I always forgot. And then I’d hold my breath. And wait. Wait to see if M’s mom had packed that extra “just in case” PB&J she always seemed to have in her lunch box. Wait in hopes that C’s dad packed his go-to daily apple, despite the fact that in all the years we’d been friends I’d never seen her actually eat an apple. Wait for S to open her baggie full of baby carrots, eat two, and then declare them way too crunchy. And as I ate alongside my friends, I’d breathe my own sigh of relief.
I was an adult the first time I realized what had actually been happening all those years. That M didn’t just happen to have an extra sandwich with her everyday. That C’s dad knew full well it wouldn’t be her eating that apple. My community taking care of me.
The gratitude I feel all these years later for my childhood friends and their parents runs deep into everything I do in my role here at the Food Bank. And I know how important the community is to our work every day. I am so grateful for the people that recognize that hunger isn’t something that only happens to families in November and December. Without their support we couldn’t meet the tremendous need that comes with summertime.
That’s why my family’s summer plans also include days spent getting involved in our community. And why I’m hopeful that many more will join the charge this summer and get involved with the Food Bank’s Summer of Service. A couple of hours can make a big difference for thousands of families. Sign up and find more information here.
Aramelle Wheeler is the Marketing & Communications Coordinator at the Food Bank of Northern Nevada. Aramelle joined the Food Bank in 2012 and is proud to be part of the fight against hunger in our community. Aramelle grew up in a family that often struggled with not having enough food and considers it an honor to be able to help other families like hers. She loves social media and really loves it when Food Bank friends share their hunger fighting fun with us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.