When a Family of 7 Can't Afford Dinner, a Cop Steps In

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As Denver police officer TJ Young is lauded for feeding one hungry family out of his own pocket, poverty experts tell Yahoo Parenting why we need more than do-gooding to make a difference for the estimated 16 million kids who are often unsure where they’ll get their next dinner. (Photo: Getty Images)

When police officer TJ Young responded to a disturbance at a Denver home late one evening last month, he discovered that loud arguing was the least of the issues. A couple raising a ruckus there at 10:30pm on Apr. 12 was in such a heated debate, Young learned, because they were at odds about how they were going to pay for dinner for their family of four small children and grandfather, none of whom had eaten supper yet.

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The officer “quickly determined that there was no crime,” according to a May 3 post about the incident on the Denver Police Department’s Facebook page. “The father of the children voluntarily removed himself from the situation to end the argument, but the mother was still worried about how she was going to feed the [family].”

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So Young took matters into his own hands. He went to a restaurant, bought meals for the family with his own money, and delivered them to the home. Young didn’t immediately respond to request for comment from Yahoo Parenting but the department’s post — liked by more than 5,000 people since it was uploaded — notes, “Thanks to Officer Young’s generosity, all went to bed with full bellies.” 

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Denver police officer TJ Young (Photo: Facebook)

All is not well that ends well, however. “The actions taken by this officer speak volumes about him as a person,” Kristen Shook Slack, co-founder of the Center on Child Welfare Policy and Practice at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, tells Yahoo Parenting. “But solutions to hunger and food insecurity cannot be solved by relying on ad hoc interventions by individuals, particularly those in the helping professions, where salaries are typically modest.” 

There are, after all, more than 16 million children in the United States, with 22 percent of all children living in families with incomes below the federal poverty level, for whom funding for basic necessities including food is scarce.

“Food insecurity and hunger are a lot more common in the U.S. than most people realize,” says Slack. “Approximately 14 percent of households are food insecure and about 6 percent have very low food security, according to Department of Agriculture.”

Considering the scope of the problem, heartbreaking dilemmas like the one experienced by the family Young helped “aren’t going to be solved by one person doing one nice thing,” agrees All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America?  author Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.

Officer Young’s do-gooding deed “represents the best and the worst of America,” Berg tells Yahoo Parenting, “because it shows how we’ve abandoned so much social policy about this that the police are often the only government entity active in low-income areas.”

Food banks and food drives seeking to provide assistance to struggling families “are wonderful,” he says, but even more important to the big picture is having the discussions about how to solve the problem. “You have to ask,” says Berg, “‘Why are so many kids living in households in which families that can’t afford food?’”

The solution he suggests, though, isn’t an easy one. “We have to create more jobs, ensure these jobs pay a living wage, and ensure that there’s a safety net for those for whom jobs aren’t enough,” he says.

Berg advises individuals to urge lawmakers to address these issues. “Write to your senators, your congressmen and congresswomen, the President and tell them to raise the minimum wage and expand the food stamp program,” he says. “Having a police officer fighting hunger makes as much sense as one social worker charged with defeating ISIS.”

For information about hunger resources in your community and access to programs, call the National Hunger Hotline: 1-866-3-HUNGRY. For resources about how to provide assistance yourself, visit Hungervolunteer.org.  

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