Outside my window there’s yet another fresh layer of snow, possibly the last fresh layer till winter begins again, at which point I will likely not be in Montana anymore. Speaking of not being in Montana, last week I took a trip out to California to see my mom’s side of the family. They don’t live in the part of California that you picture when I say “California,” they live in the Central Valley, in a tiny town called Kerman, which is near Fresno. Though warmer than Montana, it is not what could really be called warm at this time of year. Still, palm trees grow there, and it’s not snowing.

While in California, my uncle and my grandmother told me a story about my great-grandmother, my grandmother’s mother. Before becoming superintendent of schools in the area, but some time after putting herself through school at Berkley, she was the principal of a local school. As one of the agricultural hubs of the US, the Central Valley of California has had and continues to have a significant population of migrant workers. Eighty-plus years ago, my great-grandmother was the principal of a school where the children of migrant workers learned, and she saw that they often came to school hungry. She saw that the very people who did the labor necessary to feed the entire United States struggled to feed their own kids.

So, she started a breakfast program.

I never met my great-grandmother, so I can’t say what kind of person she was, and I have no idea how her breakfast program worked, but I have two basic take-aways from this.

One is that I’m proud to be carrying on a family tradition of seeing a problem and trying to fix it.

The other is that I’m extremely frustrated that we still live in a country where we can’t even make sure that a kid who goes to school will have food in their stomach and be ready to learn.

On my own, I cannot change the fact that my middle-class family got to feed me and my sister reasonably healthy food at a “reasonable” cost because a farm worker was underpaid in California, because a truck driver drove longer hours than he should because he’d be fired if he didn’t get to the next stop in time, because the supermarket, like all the supermarkets in town, hired people as part time workers so they didn’t have to pay for their health insurance. It’ll take a lifetime or more to change our food system, to make it just for the people who do the most necessary work in our society and see so few of its benefits.

In the meantime, I will still be working, like my great-grandmother before me, making sure at least one more kid doesn’t come to school hungry, regardless of who their parents are.

Ellen Harris
Montana No Kid Hungry-PRC AmeriCorps VISTA
Helena, MT