Grocery shopping in 2020: my invitation to learn about poverty

When I left to do a grocery store run back in March of this year, I was actually thinking the errand would be a refreshing break. I was shopping sans children for the first time in two years—in my mind, the equivalent of a tropical vacation. Yes, I’d heard about COVID-19 and how people were stocking up on certain staples, but I was prepared to respond calmly. I’d shop my list for the week, like I always did, and not give in to the panic.

But as I encountered the bare aisles—only a couple bags of edamame left in the frozen veggie aisle, bread and cereal gone, spaghetti sauce picked over—I found myself breathing a little harder.

I made my way to the meat section, looking for a pound of sausage. As I walked along the empty display cases, I spotted two lumps at the far end—two packages of sausage. We don’t need two this week, but I should snag both, since we’ll definitely use them in the near future, right? But if I take both, then what about the person who comes after me?

I’d gone shopping prepared to face the situation with wisdom and peace, but, confronted with scarcity, my mind and heart had gone to a place that surprised me.

Suddenly, the lines—between caring for my family and sharing with others, between having enough and not having enough, between getting what our household currently needed and planning wisely for the future—blurred.

This brought to mind how, when the World Bank asked tens of thousands of people living in low-income communities, “What is poverty?”, the responses described intangible experiences. Rather than a lack of food or money, people described the poverty as a lived experience—isolation, feelings of inadequacy, lack of options, hopelessness.

Our family again faced the multifaceted impact of scarcity as childcare options for our kids dried up and schools closed, bringing anxiety about our children’s development as well as our household income. And again when the fellowship at our home church shifted in response to the pandemic. And again, each week, when I went to the grocery store, not sure what I would—or would not—find.

I suspect that many of you experienced similar—and perhaps much more challenging—obstacles this year. This fall, I was talking with Jeff Rutt, HOPE’s founder and board chair, and he was sharing about how this year has enabled him, unlike ever before, to empathize with others in a new and deeper way.

2020 has been a year unlike any we’ve experienced—but I wonder whether our brushes with scarcity, poverty, illness, and chaos might give us a window into the realities of our global neighbors. I hope to never again walk down a meat aisle or peruse a display of spaghetti sauce without remembering the time when the shelves were bare—and how much courage it seemed to take to leave that package of sausage for someone else. I hope to never again fail to recognize the incredible witness and generosity of people like Jofrey, Nicole, and Leya, who, amid the daily realities of poverty, love their neighbors in ways that usher in the Kingdom of Heaven. For me, this has become a time to better understand the realities of poverty and, even more, to feel “the thrill of hope” that our weary world feels as Christ banishes poverty—in our world, in our minds, in our hearts.

Kristine Frey

Kristine Frey

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Kristine serves as communications engagement specialist at HOPE, meaning she has the joy and privilege of getting to know many of the incredible people HOPE serves around the world and of sharing their stories with others.

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