by Brian Lamar, US Navy Public Affairs

“I cried myself asleep. It felt like my stomach was in knots. I would look over at my little brother and see him crying too. We were both hungry. Our family had food, but not enough for everyone. My parents sacrificed as much as they could,” Colleen Sanderson, a nurse and spouse of a Seabee assigned to the Naval Construction Group 2 explained one of her most terrifyingly vivid memories of being a victim of food insecurity as a child.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.

During Colleen’s childhood, her family’s struggle to stay fed and healthy was an uphill battle that her parents couldn’t always win.

Colleen’s father Tim worked as a laborer and Colleen’s mother, Sara, was a seamstress, but occasionally work would dry up for her father and lean times would cause high dollar items like dairy and meat to go first. Her mother’s work, although steady enough, never paid enough to bridge the financial gap.

“I remember seeing Sally Struthers talking about the starving kids on infomercials on day-time TV. I remember feeling sad for them and thinking that my situation could be much worse, so I tried not to complain,” Colleen said.

Colleen began to rely on the school’s nutrition program during the school year and prayed to be invited to friend’s parties for hamburgers and cake in the summer just to get the opportunity to fill up. When Colleen was around 13, a food pantry ran by a Methodist church opened in her county and her mother decided to go see if they qualified to receive food.

“The preacher was so nice and told us to take what we needed and handed us a canvas bag. Momma filled up the bag and thanked the preacher. We cried tears of joy all the way home,” Colleen said.

The Sanderson family were allowed to make weekly visits to the pantry, which seemed to stay well stocked. Colleen noticed that her and her brother’s grades began to improve and the general mood of the household was much better. A weight of anxiety and stress had been lifted.

In 2018 alone, an estimated 1 in 9 Americans were food insecure, equating to over 37 million Americans, including more than 11 million children.

In order to help families in similar situations like Colleen, the Naval Construction Battalion Center chaplaincy helps coordinate the base’s effort in the annual USDA Feds Feeds Families program.

Currently, the USDA has identified nearly 36,000 citizens of Harrison County to be in danger or currently in the throes of food insecurity.

Due to COVID-19 issues, the base is getting off to a late start, but the goal over the next two weeks is to hit 6,000 lbs of food donations to local food pantries in Harrison County.

Chaplain Lt. Sarah Powell, NCBC deputy command chaplain, is currently requesting any non-perishable items, which can be dropped off in a donations box in front of Commissary onboard NCBC Gulfport. Commissary patrons can also purchase pre-made $10 bags of food for donation. Chapel personnel will then deliver these donations to the Long Beach Food Pantry and possibly other food pantries. Powell can be reached at (228) 871-2454 or sarah.powell1@navy.mil for questions about donations.

USDA is the designated lead agency for the National Feds Feeds Families campaign for the U.S. government nationwide. For further questions about the program, they can be emailed at fedsfeedfamilies@usda.gov.