As a young child, my favorite foods were a pita pocket with a slice of American cheese or Campbell’s chicken noodle soup. It’s not unusual for kids to be picky eaters, but for a time in my life, these were the only choices I had.
My mother was and is an amazing, strong, and independent woman, and as a teenage mom, she did her very best at solo parenting. While we eventually rose above the poverty line with the help of family, friends, and largely my mother’s own perseverance and grit, there was a period of time where we lived on food stamps. We also spent time living in a shelter with other young women and children who did not have a place to go.
I remember a story my mother told me of one day entering a room in the shelter where toys and home goods had been donated from the community. My mom was told to choose whatever she needed, and I could pick whatever I wanted from the toys. This simple act of generosity overwhelmed my mom with tears of gratitude and joy. Someone was rooting for us. Someone cared.
Experiencing poverty and food insecurity at a young age and watching the courage of my mother to provide the best for us set the stage for my future career. Because I had received so much from the kindness of strangers, it was ingrained in me that one day I would return that favor and pass along whatever gifts I had to give.
Today I am proud to be serving on the board of The Friendship Center. My day job also brings me joy serving as Director of Development for One World Surgery, a global healthcare nonprofit that ignites the spirit of service to provide high-quality surgical and primary care to underserved patients in Honduras and the Dominican Republic through local clinical staff and international partnerships. Before joining One World Surgery I worked with Covenant World Relief and Development (CWRD), an organization that supports locally led community development projects in over 30 countries, including women’s empowerment, agriculture, and clean water initiatives.
On my first trip to Honduras with CWRD, I was amazed by the thoughtful and sustainable way local leaders were creating nutrition programs to help mothers in rural areas grow their own healthy food and not have to depend on buying the only choices available at the roadside shops – mainly chips and soda. That road to sustainability began with one person reaching out to another with a gift that they could offer – a banana tree or a mustard seed.
Food insecurity is a topic that really hits home for me. And while each country has its own unique challenges, the US is not exempt. According to Feeding America and the USDA, more than 38 million people in the United States, including 12 million children, are food insecure. The pandemic has increased food insecurity among families with children and communities of color, who already faced hunger at much higher rates before the pandemic.*
Being able to serve on the board of The Friendship Center is a gift. Our incredible staff is dedicated to serving our clients with the utmost dignity and respect. Handing someone a meal today could turn into a lifetime of generosity and potential tomorrow. I am grateful for each staff member, volunteer, and donor who partners with The Friendship Center to bring hope to a child, a family, a community. Thank you for transforming lives, one meal at a time.
About the Author:
Catherine Werner has served on The Friendship Center board since 2015. Catherine first connected to The Friendship Center as a volunteer while living in the Albany Park neighborhood. For more than 12 years Catherine has worked with nonprofits to end poverty, violence and inequality both nationally and globally. She and her husband, Matt, live in Chicago.
Catherine’s mother is currently a health and wellness copywriter based out of the Twin Cities and is grateful to now be able to personally donate to the Greater Boston Food Bank, another Feeding America partner who helped her and her daughter in times of need.