I was going to write an article about “the others” before the pandemic, about the many in our communities that don’t earn enough despite working several jobs. Their lives are a constant and difficult challenge to try to cover all expenses. People whose salaries are not enough and have to make tough choices: Do I go to the doctor or repair the car? Do I pay the electricity bill or buy food for the family? Decisions like these are ones no one should ever have to make.

Now many, unfortunately, are finding themselves as “the others”, “those people”, at a food shelf line and asking for unemployment insurance for the first time, facing, with fear, the future.

I don’t want to go back to the “normal” before the pandemic where, despite the wealth in this country, there are kids that rely on schools to provide their meals. I don’t want to go back to a country where two contradictory word pairs exist: the “working poor” and “food insecure.” The whole premise of the work ethic is that allows us to control our outcomes, send off our kids into the world with tools to start their own independent lives. Before the pandemic, with stock markets booming, people were surprised to learn others were struggling. Reality shows wealth is not trickling down and low salaries are dangerously low for millions of people, unable to save.

Many are saying that we are changing, learning who the real heroes are and many of our heroes are the working poor. I wonder, are we really changing and learning? Do we understand that we ask the same commitment and work of a kid living in a sprawling house with a private bedroom and a kid living in a tiny apartment where mom and dad work many jobs, where kids have to share small rooms and don´t have a desk to do homework? Kids in families with no leftover money to buy art supplies, new shoes, or worse, food. Kids that have to go to sleep by themselves, even as toddlers, because their parents also work at night. No one is there to read them a bedtime story. Older siblings are asked to help with the little ones.

People don’t want charity, help, food shelves nor pity, people want a decent place to live and a salary to support them without having to face terrible sacrifices.

We are all part of a fabric called society and all the threads are important. When there is a hole in the fabric, the threads begin to unravel and the whole piece is compromised. When we don’t take care of each other and we pretend everything is fine because “I am fine,” when we don’t understand the importance of the “we,” we start to undermine the whole fabric, the whole community.

I don’t want to go back to a world where we allow people to suffer from unnecessary hardships such as hunger, homelessness and preventable diseases. That’s a world that I hope never comes back.

Mar Valdecantos, chair of the Northfield Human Rights Commission, can be reached at marvaldecantos@yahoo.com.

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