We Can All Be Batkid

by Dana Woldow on November 25, 2013

The story of how the Make-A-Wish Foundation made a 5 year old leukemia patient’s dream to be a superhero come true has captured the imagination of the world. As Batkid Miles Scott swept through San Francisco turned Gotham City for a day, rescuing damsels in distress, fighting villains, and winning hearts, one could almost see the thought balloons suspended above the heads of the cheering onlookers. Everyone was thinking, “I wish I could be a superhero for a day!”

Guess what? We can be.

It doesn’t take much to reimagine San Francisco as Gotham City, especially if you’ve ever strolled though the Tenderloin at night, with its general air of “crime and grime”. But as adults, we know that damsels in distress are not likely to be found tied to the MUNI tracks, and the Riddler, the Joker, and the Penguin are not lurking around a dark corner. The real villains are more likely to be poverty, despair, and hunger.

The damsel in distress may be a 6 year old girl coming to school starving on Monday morning because her last full meal was Friday’s school lunch, or perhaps a mother with small children resting on a bench in Boeddeker Park waiting for it to be time to line up for Glide Memorial Church’s daily noon lunch. Or she may be an elderly woman hidden away in a small room somewhere, out of sight to everyone except the Meals on Wheels volunteer making a safety check while delivering hot meals to homebound seniors.

Despite all the headlines about skyrocketing rents, well paid young techies, and an influx of jobs putting SF out in front of other parts of the country in terms of economic recovery, there is still plenty of hunger here. The first line of government defense against hunger has long been food stamps, now called SNAP (or CalFresh in California), but even as the cost of living in SF continues to climb, the food stamp safety net is fraying.

With a 2009 Recovery Act boost to food stamps running out November 1st, 47 million Americans receiving SNAP benefits saw their monthly allotment decrease. Individual recipients now receive $11 a month less in food stamp benefits than a month ago, while a family of 3 had their benefits cut by $29 a month. As the Center on Budget Priorities and Policy points out, SNAP benefits will average less than $1.40 per person per meal in 2014.

Meanwhile, rather than taking action to shore up SNAP, Congress is now debating further cuts to the program as part of the long delayed Farm Bill reauthorization. The Senate has proposed about $4 billion in cuts over 10 years, while the House is holding out for a whopping $39 billion reduction over that same time period.

Hunger is all around us in San Francisco, every day. According to the Food Security Task Force report presented at the Board of Supervisors Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee meeting on Nov. 21st, 1 in 4 San Franciscans lack access to healthy, nutritious food, and food insecurity (the inability to consistently afford enough food) exists across all SF neighborhoods.

That little girl who comes to school ravenous for school breakfast on Monday morning doesn’t get enough to eat over the weekend when schools are closed; her family counts on the government-funded school meal program to provide most of her calories 5 days a week. While her family may enjoy a nice meal on Thanksgiving day at Glide or St. Anthony, due to the holiday, schools are closed 5 days this week instead of 2, meaning there are still 4 other days besides Thanksgiving when this child may fall victim to that villain, hunger. Where is the superhero to save her?

It could be you.

Organizations all around the city focus on feeding the hungry every day, not just Thanksgiving and Christmas, but a great way to start a career as a superhero is to put on the Batsuit, fire up the Batmobile (or call for an Uber car), and head over to Safeway to pick up a 20 pound turkey; then swing by the SF Food Bank to drop it off. The Food Bank says “Turkey donations are welcomed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday through Thanksgiving, at the San Francisco warehouse, 900 Pennsylvania Avenue.”

If rescuing damsels in distress is not your thing, how about doing battle to protect frail seniors living alone on a small fixed income? Meals on Wheels, which provides about 80% of the home delivered meals to seniors in SF, not only bring cooked food and groceries to these homebound elderly, but helps fight another villain too – loneliness. “Social isolation has a huge impact on health, and…almost a third of seniors in San Francisco [are] living alone,” explains their website.

Meals on Wheels has an ambitious goal of trying to ensure that no senior has to wait more than 30 days to begin receiving their services, and that takes money. You can be a superhero this holiday season by sending a donation, whatever you can afford, to expand the good work that Meals on Wheels does every day to help sustain our most vulnerable adults.

Maybe you’d rather KAPOW! the bad guys directly. How about taking on some of the elected officials pushing to cut SNAP benefits? When Batkid swept through the city, the Twitterverse and other social media lit up like a holiday tree with messages, spreading the news all around the world. Why can’t we do the same thing to push for a more reasonable SNAP policy?

The Public Health Institute makes it easy to do. Just click here for a list of legislators working on the Farm Bill. Clicking on each name brings up a ready-made tweet which will be sent directly to the legislator; you can tweet the message to the 39 (of 41) who are on Twitter in less than a minute. There are also other sample tweets in case you want to compose your own message, and another place to click to post on Facebook.

Need any more encouragement to play superhero? Consider this – Batkid Miles Scott, having returned to being a normal 5 year old after his big day, is nonetheless still motivating more folks to give back. KGO TV in San Francisco reports, “He has inspired his school to hold a fundraiser for Make-A-Wish next week. All the kids will dress as superheroes and Miles’ family has set up a fund to help other families.”

The Batkid Fund, established by Batkid’s parents through the SF 49ers Foundation, will share donations among three charities. Listed on their website are:

Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions in 17 Bay Area counties to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. Support will be directed to a special “Batkid” Fund as part of the Make-A-Wish Endowment.

Ronald McDonald House Charities of Oregon and Southwest Washington provides a “home away from home” for families with seriously ill children, and supports initiatives to improve pediatric health.

Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center focuses on ensuring that the people of northern California and southern Oregon receive high-quality healthcare services provided with compassion, dignity, honesty, and skill. Support will be directed to Asante pediatric programs.”

Millions of people were moved by the bravery of Mile Scott, who has spent most of his young life fighting leukemia, but his choice to play Batman also touched a hidden part in many of us that dreams of summoning up extraordinary powers to defeat the injustice we see around us every day. Sometimes the first step to realizing a dream is just to take that first step – write a check, send a tweet. One step may lead to another – serving a meal at Glide or St. Anthony – or a more sustained involvement, like committing to bringing food to a homebound senior, or helping out at the Food Bank.

So if your heart secretly longs to be a superhero for a day like Batkid Miles, go ahead and take the plunge. As Batman himself said, “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”

Ready to help?

Donate to St Anthony Foundation, whose mission is “to feed, heal, shelter, clothe, lift the spirits of those in need, and create a society in which all persons flourish.” The Foundation runs entirely on private support and does not accept government funding.

Donate to Glide, whose mission is “to create a radically inclusive, just and loving community mobilized to alleviate suffering and break the cycles of poverty and marginalization.” Their website says GLIDE’s program is the only one in San Francisco to provide 3 nutritious meals a day, 364 days a year to the city’s poor, homeless and hungry.

Donate to Meals on Wheels SF, which “exists to alleviate the food insecurity and loneliness experienced by seniors who want to stay in their own home but cannot shop or prepare meals for themselves”, according to their website.

Donate to the SF Food Bank, whose mission is to end hunger in SF and Marin.

Dana Woldow has been a school food advocate since 2002 and shares what she has learned at PEACHSF.org. Follow her on Twitter @nestwife.

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