Sometimes the needy are closer to home than we think


As a small child in Sunday school, I remember our teacher talking about the importance of missionary work. She spoke of faraway lands with names that seemed too foreign for my tongue to even find a way to repeat.

Most of all, two things stayed with me. If we wanted to help, we had to give money and we had to hope like crazy those bone-skinny suffering children could find some food to buy with it before they starved to death.

I said my prayers faithfully each day and night, my heart heavy with the thought of going to bed hungry. It was foreign to me, in every sense of the word, but somehow just the thought of being constantly hungry seemed harsh beyond measure.

Appreciating meals

I began to see my meat-and-potatoes meals with a deeper appreciation — the creamy gravy poured over warm biscuits a delicious miracle of blessings. There was a big family who had just moved in to our community, and one day in class I noticed the hole in the new boy’s shirt.

There was a whole lot of dirt under that hole in that shirt, and not just the kind a fella gets from stealing third base at recess. Then I noticed how his pants didn’t want to stay up quite right, and the belt that had seen better days was working overtime trying to hold those old pants up.

His shoes seemed way too big, and they looked like grandpa church shoes. At recess, I asked this sweetly shy boy where his family used to live.

I was expecting him to say one of those far-away lands that my Sunday school teacher talked about. Turns out, they used to live not all that far away, and after his dad got “canned” they moved to a farm near our school.

At lunch, I tagged along with the new boy, but he did the lunchroom shuffle, going right back outside after standing in line long enough to talk to the lady who took our lunch money and punched our lunch tickets. After I finished my lunch, I searched the playground for Danny.

Needing help

I heard some commotion, then saw a group of kids hovered near Danny who had fallen while trying to run in those slick shoes. The boys seemed to be teasing him. He managed to laugh it all off but I couldn’t help but think that boy was a good actor.

Even though he wasn’t from a foreign land, maybe this boy right in front of my eyes was one of the hungry children with no shower or bathtub available to him any hour of the day. His tall frame was so skinny it seemed bones could poke right through his skin.

The next day, I asked Danny if he liked macaroni and cheese. His eyes lit up and he said, “Who doesn’t?”

I told him I did not like it one bit (‘liar, liar, pants on fire,’ my sisters would have said to me) but I might get in trouble if I bought my lunch and didn’t eat it. I begged that boy to do me a favor and sit with me at lunch.

He carried an old paper sack to the cafeteria that day. When we sat down at the lunch table, I said, “Hey, we could trade!” and he quickly shook his head no. He never opened that bag, which I noticed seemed as light as air when he moved it to help me clean up my tray. He ate every bite of that creamy macaroni and cheese.

We shared the fruit and the vegetables with the spare set of silverware he thought to grab while in line behind me.

By comparison

At my home, we didn’t have fancy meals, but we had plenty to eat. We grew a lot of our own food that made up the hearty meals our mother prepared.

In between meals, our snacks were of the boring saltines, raisins and popcorn variety, but we could eat until we were full. We had fresh milk from the cows or brightly-colored Kool-Aid to wash down the crackers.

No one ever went to bed hungry. No way would we go to school dirty, and it seemed harsh and unimaginable to me that anyone right here beside me should ever have to. But, it was beginning to sink in that this handsome new boy knew a whole lot about hungry.

Danny’s family didn’t live in our community very long. We heard his father once again got canned and without ever saying goodbye, Danny was off to some other school, his books still sitting in the desk assigned to him.

I’ve thought about him many times, wondering if he built himself a happy life. I certainly hope so. None of us get to choose our parents or the circumstance we are born in to. What an enormous difference it makes. It is a lot to ponder, isn’t it?

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.


  1. This is a good story, and one that I often think about because I know its as true today as it was generations ago. To this day, I don’t understand why we (our Country and even private charities) pour so much money into foreign endeavors when we have children, adults, and families who are hungry and are living in less than good housing without any utilities. Personally, I don’t believe one cent should be spent for foreign needs until every last legal American has food on their table three times a day. This has nothing to do with compassion for others; we just need to take care of our own first.


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