Food for thought: 86,000 hungry Vermonters

Once again this coming Thursday, a great many American families will gather together in their dining rooms and raise their glasses or say a prayer of thanks that among the plenty on the table before them is nothing made of broccoli and Jell-O.

I have nothing against either broccoli or Jell-O, but as conscientious readers know, when I was a boy my mother used to swirl them together to make something for Thanksgiving that looked a lot like a Bundt cake made of puke. The recipe was pretty simple: Frozen broccoli, frozen creamed onions, and Jell-O. Dump the ingredients in a blender and then pour them into a Bundt cake pan. Chill, serve, and then watch everyone at the table try to hide as much of the mold as they can under the stuffing or mashed potatoes.

As I look back at 2011, I have a great deal to be thankful for. We all do. Yes, I am acutely aware that my mother-in-law, my father, and my godfather all passed away this past summer, but I try never to lose sight of the fact that:

  • There is no talk of a reality TV show spinoff, “The Real Housewives of Lincoln, Vermont.”
  • Paris Hilton has not been in the news lately.
  • Lindsay Lohan has.
  • Italy is putting in place the necessary austerity measures to help relieve the debt crisis, but nothing should prevent outgoing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi from someday having his own reality TV show or starring in a Tyler Perry movie or inviting Lindsay Lohan to his villa in Italy.

And, of course, I am thankful that there will indeed be plenty of food on my table this Thursday. Not all Americans can say that. Not all Vermonters can say that.

To wit: Roughly 86,000 Vermonters will depend at some point this year on the Vermont Foodbank or its network partners, according to Judy Stermer, the Foodbank’s director of communications and public affairs. Thirty percent of those people will be children. Rob Meehan, the director of Burlington’s Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf, expects 450 people a day will be visiting his facility every single day this week. (In addition, his group delivers food to 140 homebound individuals.)

Meanwhile, the Committee on Temporary Shelter has been busier than ever this past year. Last month, once again, COTS was booked solid: Twenty-five families in its family shelters, all 48 individual beds taken in the men’s and women’s shelters, and another 34 families in overflow housing in motels and a church parsonage. And here is a particularly frightening statistic that COTS director of development Becky Holt shared with me: Last month there were 141 homeless children trying to keep up with their reading and math in Chittenden County schools.

And outside of Vermont? Right now twelve million people face famine in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, a result of drought and political upheaval. There is violence and bloodshed in Syria. And North Korea is still North Korea. Enough said there.

I will always make fun of my mother’s culinary cataclysms and absolutely delightful lack of self-awareness. She died with no idea that her family thought her broccoli mold looked like something the dog ate and gave back. But I will always be grateful that every November she set it before us on the table – and every Thanksgiving I had food and family and a roof over my head.

This year, let’s not forget the Vermonters who are not so fortunate. Happy Thanksgiving.

(This column originally ran in the Burlington Free Press on November 20, 2011. His most recent novel, “The Night Strangers,” was published last month.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.