By Mary Jane Builes
Editor’s Note: Mary Jane Builes is a senior at American University in Washington, D.C. She was a student fellow this summer in the Emerson National Hunger Program at the Congressional Hunger Center. Kellogg sponsored Mary Jane’s fellowship, which gave her the opportunity to intern at Share Our Strength, a non-profit that operates the No Kid Hungry initiative to reduce childhood hunger.
I was in middle school when I became conscious that everything in our pantry and refrigerator was limited.
My mom had become a full-time student. Money was tight.
I wondered why we’d always have to use this particular card to pay when we went to the grocery store. I didn’t know it was SNAP. Nobody told me. I just sort of found out on my own. Then I discovered that some of my friends and their families used the same card.
I began to realize that my relationship with food revolved around this certain point of the month where we could buy it. I didn’t have to grow up hungry, but my hunger and ability to eat revolved around time.
That particular time of the month was fun, because I could buy whatever I wanted, food-wise. Not just store brand. And not as many difficult sacrifices. The older I got, though, I realized I didn’t want to take as much money from my family. Even though I was a kid and still dependent, I realized I couldn’t want as much.
What were the necessities? What does my family need? I didn’t want to buy something I liked if it meant my family couldn’t have the poultry or cereal it needed. I had to limit myself, in a way.
Hence, my interest in fighting hunger so no one has to limit themselves on how they live and eat.
When I arrived at American University my freshman year, I joined the Community Based Research Scholars. This program offers responsible and meaningful service through community-based research learning and opportunities around Washington D.C.
I was connected to various organizations and groups around D.C., so that’s how I found out about the Congressional Hunger Center and its Emerson Fellowship. I was studying abroad in Mexico at the time and internet was spotty. I stayed up until 3 a.m. to complete my application, because I knew I wouldn’t have computer access again for a couple of days.
I knew as I filled out the application that this was going to be a perfect fit.
And it was.
I was able to gain so much real-world experience during my time at Share Our Strength.
One of my tasks was to survey our staff about what it was like to shift their work from the office to home, and how that impacted the organization. (Not surprisingly, they remained as committed as ever.)
I also helped organize research, school lists and was part of meetings that were working through funding scenarios based on government policy. Every day is different with the government, because you never really know what policy they might create or abandon.
The people at Share Our Strength are so great. Very passionate and dedicated to fighting hunger, just like Kellogg. I thank both organizations for such a memorable summer. I learned a lot.
Perhaps the most valuable thing I learned was to be flexible, compassionate and understanding of where other people are coming from – especially right now because of the pandemic. Everyone’s lives and work have been disrupted to varying degrees, so you just need to roll with it.
Although I don’t know where my future will take me, I know it will be bright and issues of hunger will continue to be a priority for me.