Stress fracture

Day 32–August 4, 2009

For two weeks, 98 miles, I walked on an injured ankle. Today, after a visit to an orthopedist, an x-ray, and an MRI, I learned that I have a stress fracture of my left tibia. I have been walking on a broken leg.

So, instead of just taking a couple weeks off before I can resume my journey, I will very likely be off the road for close to a month. As a result, this means my trip will need to be drastically altered. I no longer expect to reach San Francisco this year. But it does not mean I am giving up the fight. Nor am I ending my journey. Too many people have told me how important my message is, and countless people, some friends some strangers, have encouraged me every step of the way.

When I began walking I had hoped it would inspire people to finally see the poverty and struggle right in front of their eyes, and to do something about it. We need not go to Third World nations to see poverty. It is all around us–the man at the side of the highway holding out a cup and asking for change; the waitress who continues to live with an abusive boyfriend because she can’t afford to live on her own; the fast-food worker who lives in his car; the college student who buys a package of Ramen noodles with a handful of loose change. I have yet to talk to a single person who does not think our nation has a problem. Even those who did not want to pay taxes to fund “handouts” or who suggested that poor people are lazy agreed that something must be done.

And I’ve been honored that so many people have told me what I’m doing is brave. But I am not brave. The real bravery, the real strength, lies with those who toll day after day in low-paying jobs and live in substandard housing or who have nothing but the clothes on their backs. I will continue my journey for them.

– By Jennifer E. Cooper

Hometown homeless

I do not remember the first time I encountered someone who was homeless. It is not something that entered my consciousness growing up in the suburbs of Albany, N.Y. So it comes as no surprise to me that the Albany County 10-year Plan to End Homelessness suggests that it is an invisible problem.

“Homeless persons in Albany County remain largely hidden from view, in emergency shelters and motels, where we are not aware of their presence.” – Albany County 10-year Plan to End Homelessness

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, in 2007 there were 619 people in my home county without a place to call home–roughly 4 % fewer than in 2005 when the county implemented its 10-year plan to end homelessness. Though it is a start, as the plan suggests, homelessness is not a one-dimensional problem with a simplistic solution. Instead, it will require “the participation of all sectors of the community . . . to work together to end homelessness in Albany County.”

By Jennifer E. Cooper

Rest stop

For a month my backpack and I have been intimately acquainted. When I climbed hills, it climbed; when I sweated, it sweated; when I was soaked in the rain, it was soaked; when I was frustrated–well, it is a backpack. I doubt it was frustrated.

So today, backpack free, I would like to remember all the people who still must carry their heavy loads wherever they go. And I am happy to no longer be among you, free of the 35-pound weight, however brief my break may be.

–by Jennifer E. Cooper

Inconvenient food

It is an unfortunate fact that healthy food often costs more than food that offers little or no nutritional value. The average price of a gallon of milk is estimated to be $3.50, while a two liter bottle of soda can be purchased for about $1.50 (approximately 3.79 liters per gallon.) A entire bag of chips can cost the same as just one piece of fruit.

And if that isn’t bad enough, many poor neighborhoods don’t even have the option to buy healthy food. Eating out means selecting from the available fast food restaurants. Food shopping is done at the only store in town, sometimes more convenience store than grocery store. They are called food deserts.

While volunteering with Food For All in Washington, D.C. , to deliver food baskets to homebound residents, I noticed many of the poor neighborhoods had no stores of any kind save a pawn shop, payday loan/check cashing, and perhaps a convenience store. Not only did that mean no jobs, but it meant no healthy food either.

A new USDA report suggests that these food deserts are rare–data that contradicts many advocates for the poor. The report to Congress found that 2.2% of U.S. households, 2.3 million, lack both a car and live more than a mile from a supermarket. It also found that those in poorer neighborhoods are more likely to live closer to a grocery store, though it takes slightly longer to get there. Instead, the report suggests, poor diets and obesity may be linked more to living in areas that have an abundance of fast food rather than living farther away from healthy food.

Regardless, for some 35 million Americans it matters little how close they live to a supermarket because they cannot afford to buy groceries. The 2007 U.S. Conference of Mayor’s Hunger and Homelessness Survey states that the main causes of hunger in survey cities were poverty, unemployment and high housing costs.

–By Jennifer E. Cooper