Hungry, Please Help: When Your Heart Breaks Under A Bridge


“In America, we believe in pulling ourselves up by
our bootstraps. But what if you don’t have boots?”
– Homeward Bound of WNC,
White Paper on Homelessness

I was on the way to pick up my son, Ari, from school. As I exited I-240 at Merrimon Avenue, I could see a man down near the stop light holding a sign. “Hungry, please help,” it read. The line of cars at the light was backed up the ramp, and I was too far away to call to him. I had a single dollar bill on me and some change. When the light changed to green, he stepped back from the curb against the cement wall, and I had to drive by and turn left.

I got Ari, and I headed to the convenience store near his school. As we pulled into the lot, Ari said, “Mom, we got gas this morning.”

“I know,” I said, “but we are going to get some food for someone.” I grabbed a bottled water and some chips, nuts, cheese crackers, and mini donuts. I paid, and we got back into the car. I cut down the tiny side streets to yet another convenience store in front of the I-240 ramp. The man was gone. I pulled into the parking lot of the gas station to look around but didn’t see him there either. “We’ll find someone else who needs the food,” I said.

I turned right out of the convenience store and drove under the I-240 overpass. I looked to my right and saw a man with white hair sitting hunched over with his back pressed against one of the cement supports. We turned to go around the block, and I pulled into the parking lot on Lexington Avenue under the bridge.

“Stay here for a minute,” I told Ari. I hurried across the small parking lot with the plastic bag of food and water in hand. “Excuse me, are you hungry?” I asked the man. He stared at me for a second. “Yes,” he replied. “I have water and some food in this bag,” I said as I handed it to him. “Thank you,” he said.

I quickly ran back to my car. A woman stood under the bridge on the other side of the parking lot. I could see the tattoos on her arms. There were a few other figures huddled in shadow of the overpass. I got back in my car and shut the door.

“Homelessness is a human tragedy. Our own
community members live in tents and under bridges,
vulnerable to inclement weather and violence,
stripped of dignity and our collective respect.”
– Homeward Bound of WNC,
White Paper on Homelessness

I started the car. A block away was Rosetta’s Kitchen where I’d celebrated my 40th birthday two days earlier. Rosetta’s marks the north end of downtown and is one of many eclectic and often expensive local restaurants. Asheville is included on an endless number of lists of the nation’s best restaurants and top food destinations. There is no shortage of restaurants. There is no shortage of national and local grocery stores.

Yet, somehow, a 2013 report by the Food Research and Action Center ranked the Asheville Metropolitan Statistical Area as the ninth hungriest city in the nation. According to that report, more than 20% of Asheville residents experience “food hardship.”

Rosetta’s Kitchen has a sliding scale meal option. They write on their menu: “We believe that food is a human right. That’s why we’re offering a meal with a sliding scale price. Please pay what you can. Anything over $6 allows us to pay it forward so others in our community may eat. A plate of organic long-grain brown rice, organic beans of the day and served with your choice of tortilla chips or sweet southern style slaw.”

I pulled out of the parking lot. The white haired man had the contents of the convenience store bag spread on the cement in front of him. I watched him open the pack of cheese crackers as I turned left on Lexington Avenue to head home.

I felt my heart break.


For more information on homelessness and food insecurity:
Homeward Bound of WNC, White Paper on Homelessness
National Alliance to End Homelessness, Snapshot of Homelessness
Ashevile Buncombe Food Policy Council

Author: Tamara Reynolds

Share This Post On

1 Comment

  1. As a middle class white woman, with two beautiful children, a car, a home and pursuing an education without barriers, one could look at me and say how can that over weight woman know anything of hunger. I wasn’t always middle class and I wasn’t always overweight. My weight has a great deal to do with coming from a place of never having food to have access to ANYTHING I want to eat.

    It’s unbelievable to me that people can look at a homeless hungry person and not see a human. How can someone not understand that something as seemingly basic as food is a privilege. Every time a person snarls their nose at someone who is surfing in poverty they dehumanize that poverty stricken individual to less than human.

    So many never had those boot straps to pull up. They don’t know how to even go about getting boot straps to pull up.

    Post a Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *