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“Give Because It Multiplies” Hunger and Response in Antonito Poverty and Food Insecurity Poverty and food insecurity were a threat not only to individuals but also to community ideals of equality and collective responsibility—ideals encapsulated in the words of Carmen Lopez: “The thing that the elderly people used to say is this, ‘Give because it multiplies.’ I really think that it happens.” The people I interviewed said that the poor did not go hungry for several reasons: there was a caring community; there was both government and private assistance; and the traditional diet was cheap, available, and nutritious. But poverty was widespread, jobs were hard to get, some people suffered from physical and mental impairments, and a few people were struggling to get enough good food to eat. Conejos was one of the poorest counties in the nation. In 2004 a staggering 19.1 percent of people in Conejos County lived below the poverty line, compared to 10.2 percent in Colorado and 12.7 percent in the United States. In 2005 the annual median personal income per capita for Conejos County was $18,875, barely over half the Colorado figure of $37,510 and the U.S. figure of 10 Counihan_2PP.indd 181 Counihan_2PP.indd 181 8/20/09 10:15:26 AM 8/20/09 10:15:26 AM A T O R T I L L A I S L I K E L I F E 182 $34,471.1 The Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute (n.d.) reported that between March 2006 and February 2007 approximately 220,000 Coloradans were food insecure and 251,000 (5.3 percent) were on food stamps, an increase of more than 61 percent since 2000. In Conejos County the average monthly Food Stamp caseload was 614 of approximately 8,500 inhabitants (Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute n.d.). One 2006 study reported that 12 percent of Colorado households were food insecure (Nord, Andrews, and Carlson 2006).2 But in Antonito even people who had little money could eat culturally appropriate and adequate though perhaps monotonous foods and benefit from the fact that food sharing was normative in their culture. Although they acknowledged envy and discord, many people agreed with Janice DeHerrera, who said, “Nobody who has food will deny somebody who’s hungry who asks for food.” There were several safeguards against hunger: school breakfast and lunch programs, the food bank in the basement of St. Augustine Church, Senior Citizens’ Center lunches, and Meals on Wheels for elderly shut-ins. As Janice put it, “We don’t have a lot of money, but I would say we’re not poor, because we don’t have any homeless, and there’s nobody starving, and we have a food bank.” BERNADETTE VIGIL ON CARING AND HUNGER Bernadette Vigil remembered growing up in Antonito in the 1950s. She painted an idyllic picture of her people taking care of each other to combat the rare cases of extreme poverty. It was wonderful, being brought up in Antonito was, oh, it was wonderful . We didn’t know what prejudice was; we didn’t know what hunger was—no matter how poor everybody was, you didn’t know what hunger was. You knew who your neighbor was, and who helped who, and everybody got along with everybody, everybody, all the kids. We were poor, but, hey, we didn’t lack anything. And if we were missing anything, I sure didn’t know about it. None of us did. There was this woman, and she was real, real poor. Her husband went completely insane one day. Completely insane. She was left with fifteen kids. They would kill birds. What were they doing with birds? Why would they want to kill birds? Well, we didn’t know, but they were eating them. They would kill them, pluck them, and eat them. We had no idea. Little birds. So then we told my daddy. And my daddy says, “I don’t believe this.” So he went and he told Mr. Daniels who owned the Counihan_2PP.indd 182 Counihan_2PP.indd 182 8/20/09 10:15:26 AM 8/20/09 10:15:26 AM 183 Hunger and Response grocery store. Mr. Daniels wanted to go see, so they went to go see, and sure enough they were so poor. There was no welfare at that time. There were no social services, there was no nothing. So from that day Mr. Daniels would let her come in and get whatever...


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