Holly Richardson: Check your privilege at the door, senator

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Smiths Food & Drug is helping to open a food pantry at David Gourley Elementary School in Kearns, where 80 percent of the 646 students qualify for free or reduced lunches, Tuesday, March 13, 2018.

Sarah (not her real name) came into Tabitha's Way Food Pantry in American Fork with two of her older children one evening when I was volunteering.

As I did her intake interview, she shared with me that her husband was an Iraqi war veteran suffering from PTSD and unable to work. Sarah had a job but, with five children at home, there was just more mouth than money. She burst into tears of shame and gratitude when I told her the food pantry was there to help.

Like hundreds of thousands of other Utahns, Sarah and her family are "food insecure." But what Sarah is not is a parent who “decided” to let the government “parent her kids.”

Breakfast at school could have been a Godsend for Sarah and her family.

Instead, wealthy businessman and current state senator, David Hinkins, along with two other Republican senators, shot down a bill in the Utah Legislature on Thursday that would have increased the opportunity for families like Sarah’s to have their kids start the day with a healthy breakfast.

The bill, HB222, would have expanded the school breakfast program to reach more children already in the National School Lunch Program. Oh, and it would have cost zero dollars of state funds.

Nonetheless, upon hearing the bill in committee, Hinkins wondered out loud, “When are we going to let parents be parents? Why all of a sudden are we the parents of all the kids. Parents should be parents,” he said. “My mother fixed my breakfast and my wife fixed my kids’ breakfasts.”

Apparently the only reason Hinkins could think of for the reason kids show up at school hungry is … bad parenting? How compassionate of him. Seriously. How deep is the privilege and entitlement when you literally cannot think of a single “acceptable” reason that a mom might not make breakfast in the morning??

The ultimate “irony” (or slap in the face, you choose) is that the county with the highest rate of childhood food insecurity in the state is San Juan. Hinkin’s district. There, 24.7% — virtually one in every four children — do not know when or where their next healthy meal is coming from.

All the swears. All. The. Swears.

I do not understand why some Utah legislators seem so willing to grind the faces of the poor. I just don’t get it.

Do they really think that food is a privilege reserved only to those with the good fortune to be dealt a better hand in life? Should opportunities to learn be reserved for those who can afford three healthy meals a day?

We’ve known for years that not feeding kids in the morning has a direct negative impact on a child’s ability to concentrate, to learn and to remember. Malnutrition is not just a problem in developing countries, yo. Its effects spill over into many facets of life. In other words, poverty hampers a child’s opportunity to succeed in many way and can impact their entire life. And then the next generation and the one after that ...

The people visiting food pantries like Tabitha’s Way are the working poor. I saw licensed professionals — teachers, nurses and nurses’ aides, cosmetologists — who could not make ends meet. I met people holding down two or three part-time jobs, grandparents unexpectedly raising grandchildren and a mother who stopped taking insulin so she could feed her children.

Sixty percent of the people who passed through the pantry’s doors have had to choose between paying for food and paying for housing. Seventy-one percent have had to choose between medical care and food or between transportation and food. What horrible choices to have to make.

Shame on those in the Legislature who threw one more punch in the gut to parents trying to do their best. I suggest you educate yourselves on what poverty in the United States looks like and how it impacts real people. You know - like the ones who live in your district.

You could start by reading “Hillbilly Elegy” by J. D. Vance and “Tightrope” by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn.

And for the love of all that is holy, check your privilege at the door.

Holly Richardson

Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune.