Dear America, please open your eyes. Growing up in poverty does not have to be part of the American way.
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As a human being I see. I see things perhaps others don't see. Both an observer and a participant in American life.

For me, a trip to the grocery store at 9 pm is a last minute recipe for "company coming" - though this a ritual for families living on the edge of poverty. This very store where I see evidence of half eaten food stashed in the aisle from furtive consumption. And baby formula kept under lock and key. Rounding an aisle I see a couple arguing over the cost of hamburger and a child crying in the carriage. The little girl is tired and should be in bed but evidently this is pay day - food can be purchased. At last look the hamburger is returned to the shelf. I hear the father yell at the child as I leave the store. A knot fills my full belly.

In the wake of the economic collapse, there has been an increase in the population that is living below and slightly above the poverty line. It is everywhere, if you look closely. The corner store that you occasionally stop in to pick up a loaf of bread or gallon of milk also accepts utility payments. The woman in the other line isn't buying lottery tickets. If you looked closely you would have seen the shut off notice she was clutching as she bounced her son on her hip. Poverty is the difference between doing laundry this week or having a few extra dollars to buy pizza and treat your family to a night out. Or keep the electricity on.

People are struggling mainly due to low-paying jobs or job loss. Other causes such as high medical bills, divorce, and death bring individuals and families closer to the edge of poverty. The cost of rent or mortgage, food, clothes, medical expenses, electric and heat bills, many families can't afford it all.

Growing up is tough. For all of us. Peer pressure, school, homework, friends, fitting in and finding your place. Learning in school and in life. A teacher I know earned the name Mister by his strict rule to learn in his classroom. He expects homework to be done and tests passed. A tired teen showed up to class without his homework done but Mister let it go because his family spent the night in the shelter. Mister also shared his food with the girl who was at the nurse's office and missed her lunch. No child should have to worry about going to bed hungry or waking up in a shelter or wearing a pair of sneakers that hurts his big toe when he runs.

This isn't a black thing or a white thing or an in-between thing. It's an us thing. An American thing. We need to sit up and take notice, not turn the other way. Dear America, please open your eyes. Growing up in poverty does not have to be part of the American way.

For these reasons and not these reasons alone, the Love Can Initiative was founded. We are committed to helping the more than 16 million American children who are living in poverty.

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