The perception of poverty and hunger tends to focus on a small child in a Third World country with a bloated midsection, crying into the camera lens.
"It is your neighbor, it is the person that sits in the pew next to you (in church), that is well-kept, looks fine. Everything is OK, I'm OK, you're OK, but everything is not OK," says Marliyn Porcher, a Lowcountry resident and the mother of former NFL player Robert Porcher.
Porcher is a founding member of the Professional Football Player's Mothers Association, which has partnered with Campbell's Chunky/NFL Tackling Hunger and Feeding America. In all, 35 moms of current and former NFL athletes will be participating in the program to "tackle hunger" through December 31. Local resident Dolores Gray, mother of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Quinn Gray (who started his career in Jacksonville), is also part of the local effort.
In 2003 Porcher was voted one of the 10 Most Valuable Moms in the NFL. With that honor, Chunky donated 1,800 cans of soup to the Lowcountry Food Bank. For this year's promotion Campbell's will donate 500 more cans of soup to the food bank, and the moms will be working to pull in their own donations.
The three mothers who generate the most donations for their local food banks receive a trip to Tampa, Fla., during the week of Super Bowl XLIII to take part in Campbell's Chunky/NFL Tackling Hunger's "soup-er donation" of one million cans of soup.
But Tackling Hunger's collective efforts won't end hunger in the United States — the problem is obviously too big. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, hunger affects 37.3 million Americans, a "staggering" statistic, says Porcher, especially when you consider the U.S. is the world's wealthiest nation. But program organizers hope to heighten awareness, both in local communities and across the country, while suspending the pangs of hunger — at least temporarily.
The Lowcountry Food Bank, Porcher and Gray's local partner, reports 28 percent of Lowcountry families with single mothers are living in poverty, 23 percent of children in the Lowcountry live in poverty, and another 17 percent of senior citizens live in poverty. As a result they have to depend on food banks to sustain themselves.
Porcher has seen first-hand how otherwise "vibrant and alive" people are suffering from hunger and poverty. "It goes back to the old adage that you can't judge a book by its cover," she says.
The face of hunger breaks her heart. Its face is that of strangers. Outwardly, there are no noticeable symptoms. It's more subtle than the shocking images of starvation or homelessness and is often the result of economics. The traditional face of a poor person in the U.S. is a single parent who works full time, but still can't afford to pay for food, rent, child care, medical bills, and the cost of a car to travel to work. Those circumstances usually result in unhealthy food choices and, sometimes, no food at all.
The donation drive is a twist for Porcher. Her son, Robert, played 13 NFL seasons (and also played for the Wando Warriors), but he never played in a Super Bowl. Now that he's retired, Marilyn Porcher is the one with the Super Bowl shot this season.
"He (Robert) always said he wasn't going to go unless his team got to. Unfortunately, his team never got there," she says. "But I don't need to go to a Super Bowl. I just need to make sure people get fed."