The facts are indisputable.
Storm Lake is no longer the comfortably semi-wealthy community it once was. Perhaps that is true of a great many fine communities, in fact.
The chasm between haves and have nots has widened. That comfortable middle class - the foundational element of communities, that can manage to afford a median-plus house, a vacation every year, college for its kids and perhaps an early retirement, even with a stay-at-home parent - is nearly ceasing to be.
We do not have homeless people living in cardboard shanties. We do not have a single blighted neighborhood. We do not have high unemployment, we do not have people reduced to begging on the street for survival. In that respect, we are much more fortunate than some urban environments.
What we do have, it seems, is a lovely setting in which more and more people are closer to the brink.
This is not a town of welfare cases. The food pantries will tell you, it is a place of working poor. People who hold a job, or two or three, that still doesn't quite pay the bills. I would venture to guess that hundreds of families are one paycheck away from trouble.
It is a town where multiple immediate families may share a small house meant for one, or people may be living in a sublet basement or back room of a mobile home, because it is all they can afford. In some cases, they may struggle with the language, and that prevents them from moving forward in the workplace even if they work hard.
Some jobs may hold people at just the level of hours where benefits need not be paid. And that means that one family sickness can throw them into crisis.
With little adjustment in Social Security benefits, I see more than a few of our senior citizens standing in line for food donations. Their food and money runs out before the month does. It's great that the help is there - it is sad and unjust that it needs to be.
College costs have become so high that for the first time in several generations, some families may not see higher education as realistic in their world. Others entire families will spend decades trying to tread water in a sea of college loan debt. Health costs are also such that some are choosing between medication and food.
Whether these realities are true in all towns of our size, I can't begin to tell you. I can only tell you what I see here.
I have worked with charities like Adopt A Family and Mr. Goodfellow, done countless stories with food banks and hunger committees and all of the agencies that address need, and attended food distributions enough to say that good people are facing very uncertain times.
Reality: the cases of the lazy, immoral, or spendthrift causing their own woes are few and far between here.
Frustrated people in civic groups and politics often ask me why it is so hard to get people to be involved in our community.
But it isn't that they don't want to be involved, it is that when you are barely scraping by, and wondering if you will have enough to feed your kids next week, and worrying about how you can possibly afford college, or dental work, or security and utility deposits on a more suitable place to live - that struggle is is all consuming.
There is little time and energy to volunteer, or campaign, or ponder social issues, when your days are spent just trying to stay above water.
It is not a disaster situation. We have jobs, we have housing growth, we have lots of public facilities for use with no cost. We have good schools. We have caring leaders. We are in the absolute vanguard in multicultural understanding and acceptance. And we have many kindhearted people and effective charitable programs.
We should be thankful that our schools have joined in the efforts. They don't have to, you know. They are redefining their job, networking, and helping.
It should concern us that it is necessary for teachers in some of our area schools to spend precious time packing food into backpacks so children can eat over the weekend. That it is necessary for kids to collect food not for poor third-world countries, but in many cases for our own town. That it is necessary to hand out boxes of donated food in front of our school administration building, and that it is necessary to cook meals even when school is not in session in the summer for those who might otherwise have none.
But that's the thing - they might otherwise have none. You can't expect people to work, to study, to progress and become involved, if they don't have enough to eat.
Yes, we are treating symptoms and not the problem. It has to be done. There is food enough in our country, and in our town, if we can get it into the right hands and avoid being wasteful. When hunger is prevented, we have a shot at solving other issues.
Last year, the school summer lunch program numbers started at 200 a day but declined as low as 30-35 children a day. The need is greater than that. We all know it is.
Why aren't the kids eating? Do we need other locations, or busing? Is pride in the way, or are we just not getting the word out clearly enough?
Storm Lake will not, we cannot, turn away from hungry children, period.
If your child could use those meals, please, please take advantage. We have the food. There are no requirements, no questions, just good meals for good people.
We will endeavor to do better at getting the word out. Help us, please - if you know a family that might be in need, or where children may be alone during the day, or would just benefit from being with others to enjoy a mealtime, tell them. Let's use this resource!
We can't fix all the economic issues of our time, or even of our community, overnight.
Be we can damn sure get a plate of good food in front of a child that needs it. And that's a start. A big start.