by Tara Leigh Kramer. A shorter version of this article first appeared in the Nov/Dec/Jan 2021-2022 issue of The Voice.
One definition of the word “opportunity” is “a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.”
I went on to college, and moved to Texas for an amazing opportunity for a career with an investment firm. I came out as queer to my family, and they no longer wanted to stay in touch with me. I still had my education, a solid support system and a career so the estrangement didn’t affect my life much at that time.
I lost the ability to advocate for myself, and nobody I knew was willing to advocate for my care.
I’d been living with the same partner for almost 10 years. She was so bothered by my changing body and mind, she kicked me out of our home. I lost the ability to advocate for myself, and nobody I knew was willing to advocate for my care. I ended up on the streets, in another state, desperate for help. It’s like I’d become completely invisible. People would avoid looking at me, they wouldn’t respond when I attempted to speak. It was surreal and horrifying. I’d become convinced I was invisible and I started praying for acceptance I was going to die.
A miracle occurred and a friend from my college days in Iowa tracked me down. They made arrangements for me to come to Iowa. This was my opportunity to possibly stay alive. Once in Iowa I was put in contact with several resources. One resource changed the course of my life forever. I was introduced to the people at DMARC. They gave me a list of food pantries I could go to. I was terrified but I went to a pantry anyway.
I’ll never forget how I was welcomed at the door of the food pantry at Bidwell Riverside Center…The staff was so gentle and patient.
I’ll never forget how I was welcomed at the door of the food pantry at Bidwell Riverside Center. I wasn’t judged by my outsides, or the way my words were strung together. The staff was so gentle and patient. They looked me in the eye. They treated me with dignity. They saw the person I was and always had been despite how I looked. They treated me with the same kindness I would treat somebody else in need. What a blessing that day was. With assistance I found housing and I was able to locate furniture and food and proper healthcare providers.
People were helping me advocate for myself for the first time since becoming gravely ill. I was put in touch with journalists who came to hear my story. They shared my story with the community. I was growing healthier in every aspect of my life. By then my own experiences had shown me how crucial proper communication was for my overall quality of life. DMARC gave me an amazing opportunity to join a couple of their volunteer groups. I was willing and able to share my story with anybody it might benefit.
I was so humbled and grateful to be given the opportunity to commune with others who could relate to me.
I believe my story inspired DMARC to give others in our community the same opportunity they’d given me. The Storytellers Roundtable was born. I was so humbled and grateful to be given the opportunity to commune with others who could relate to me; to how unexpected circumstances had affected me. The Storytellers Roundtable was held at an accessible, safe and quiet location where others who had experienced hunger and food insecurity could challenge the prevailing stigma our culture has towards people living below the poverty level.
I went with an open mind and heart, wanting to meet everyone where they were at, with love. I met a handful of strong, brave, inspiring people who seemed nervous and timid about coming in the door. I understood, because I’d been in their shoes. Being mistreated and exploited so many times before, that’s all I’d grown to expect.
In a short amount of time we were given the opportunity to introduce ourselves to each other in a fun and engaging way. We discussed the prevailing narrative so many have towards “the poor.” We got to share why that narrative is far from being truthful, being based off negative biases and assumptions. We were given the guidance and tools to be able to concisely and effectively write our own stories around hunger in 2-3 pages.
It was such a powerful and enlightening experience to hear from these amazing human being who had circumstances beyond their control derail their lives, and the steps they’ve taken to navigate their new normal.
After writing our stories we shared with the group. It was such a powerful and enlightening experience to hear from these amazing human beings who had circumstances much beyond their control derail their lives, and the steps they’ve taken to navigate their new normal. Being able to use our voices in spaces where we could process traumatic events, then be given resources where telling our stories to those who can affect change was empowering.
It’s an honor to have people at DMARC consider me their friend. I still have access to supplemental nutritious food every month I need it, and I also have a space I know my voice will be heard and respected. Thanks to DMARC and the Storytellers Roundtable, I’ve been given countless opportunities to use my voice to advocate for myself and my community.
DMARC is hosting its next Storytellers Roundtable on Hunger and Food Insecurity on Saturday, January 8, 2022 at Central Library in downtown Des Moines, and is still seeking participants.Learn More and Apply