Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: HUNGRY (01/09/20)
- TITLE: Too Little, Too Late
By Mariane Holbrook
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He had been the last one to enter my classroom that first day of school and only by his mother's insistence did he stay.
This was my first year of teaching and teachers' aides had not yet become a necessary addition to the staff. I was on my own with 37 first graders crowded into the classroom.
I led Johnny to a seat near my desk. He was barefooted and his shirt was hanging out at an odd angle because it had been wrongly buttoned.
The bell rang and I stood at my desk smiling at the children while I introduced myself and welcomed them.
The first day was mostly a get-acquainted time. By the time the dismissal bell rang in the afternoon, everyone seemed to be adjusting well to the classroom and the ambiance. Everyone except Johnny.
He sat quietly at his desk all day staring at the floor, not responding nor participating in the activities.
By the end of the first week, the children had settled into a routine and were becoming excited about attending school. Johnny remained inside his self-imposed cocoon but I could see signs that encouraged me. I found that he was endearing himself to me whether he realized it or not.
At lunch in the cafeteria each day, I moved around to make sure the first graders were eating what their mothers had packed for their lunches. Those who did not eat usually became sleepy and inattentive during the afternoon and I wanted them to be as alert as possible.
It didn't escape my notice that for the first week, the only food Johnny brought for lunch in his wrinkled paper bag was a cold, baked sweet potato. He ate it in silence, the peeling and all.
The next week I made it a point to sit beside him at the lunch table and when he finished eating his sweet potato, I said quietly to him, "I packed way too much lunch for myself. Could you do me a favor by eating this extra sandwich so I won't have to throw it away?"
He lifted the top slice to see what was inside and quickly removed the Romaine lettuce before biting into the ham, turkey and cheese sandwich. He didn't thank me but I was pleased that he devoured it so quickly and seemed to enjoy it.
The next morning Johnny handed me a slip of paper from his mother which I assumed was a thank-you note for the sandwich. Instead, were these words: "We don't accept chairity. Johnny likes the lunches I send with him and does not nead part of yours." Her signature followed.
I was distraught. I took Johnny aside and explained that I meant no harm, that I was just sharing my lunch with him. He remained silent while he looked at the floor.
Johnny was absent from school much of the time but he always brought a note the next day from his mother explaining his absence.
His lunch of sweet potatoes was sometimes augmented by a piece of buttered bread or some crackers but little else. As time went on, I began to notice a blanched, grey pallor on his face which concerned me.
One afternoon while my first graders were taking a few minutes' rest with their heads on their desks, I took Johnny to the principal's office to confirm what I suspected: that Johnny was not well.
I called Johnny's mother that night to express my concern and she told me in no uncertain terms to stick to teaching and let her do the mothering of Johnny.
Just before Thanksgiving, Johnny stopped coming to school altogether. The school's truant officer visited the family and discovered that Johnny had an advanced case of pernicious anemia and was hospitalized.
Three weeks later, Johnny was dead and my heart broke. I sent flowers and attended the funeral.
For months I grieved, blaming myself for not intervening sooner. I began volunteering at the Food Bank, soup kitchen, church pantry, Meals-On-Wheels and I fought for free school lunches.
I made a solemn promise to myself and to God: "Never again will I allow a child or anyone I know to remain hungry. I will use every means at my disposal to be an advocate, to feed that person and get them the help they need. So help me God."
"Feed the hungry! Help those in trouble! Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you shall be as bright as day. And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy you with all good things, and keep you healthy too; and you will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring." (TLB, Isaiah 58:10-11)
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." (KJV Matt. 25:35,36)
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