Today marks my first week as a resident of Chicago and as an intern at the ELCA offices with the ELCA World Hunger Program, and I am beginning to settle in. A year ago, I never would have thought that I would be ready to embark out on my own to live in the “big city,” and, yet, here I am. Thus far, Chicago has the “city” feel (complete with roughly 3 million of my closest neighbors), but maintains a little of the “Midwest nice.” Since I grew up in northern Minnesota close to the head of the Mississippi River, in a town of approximately 12,000 people, a little familiarity goes a long way. I have my very own “cube” here at the ELCA offices on “Intern Alley,” had my first (eventful) trip to the mailroom, and am wading through the plethora of materials and services that ELCA World Hunger has to offer.

I was attracted to this internship, because ELCA World Hunger names itself as “a comprehensive and sustainable program that uses multiple strategies—relief, development, education, and advocacy—to address the root causes of hunger and poverty.” As a political science major with a peace studies minor, and as a person of color who is interested in the ways in which oppressive “systems” like patriarchy, hierarchy, and racism hold some people down, confronting root causes is an approach that I can get behind. Also, and perhaps more importantly, I truly believe that we, as people of faith, have something unique to offer to the work being done to create, provoke, and dream of radical change in our world.

As a note before I begin my reflection, I want to express that I am not attempting to make my experience seem “excruciatingly difficult,” because it is far from that. In fact, I am blessed with the resources, support network, and privilege to allow opportunities. However, I am becoming more aware of how blessed I am to have those resources, and how someone without the same access would lead a very different life.

I am, currently, a full-time college student and all that that implies. Tuition at my ELCA affiliated private, liberal arts college is a lot. Let’s say $30,000+ USD. I work three on-campus jobs, two that pay $6.15 USD an hour with a total of 10 hours per week, and one that pays for my on-campus room. Given those factors in combination with other expenses, I embarked on my summer internship and moved to Chicago with approximately $100-$200 USD in my pocket. Normally during the school year, $100-200 a month is adequate. However, start up, moving, transportation, and food costs have shocked me and are higher than costs in Minnesota. Just to give you an idea, here is a cost breakdown of start up costs for my move and the internship.

Gas to get to Chicago: $200+
UHaul trailer to move: $347
Rent for an apartment in Logan Square: $950 a month, plus utilities
Phone/Cable/Internet: $120 a month
Electric/ Gas: $100 a month
Chicago “L” train pass to commute: $75 a month
First “stock the shelves” groceries: $300
First “hey, we need toilet paper, cleaning supplies, shower curtain” Target run: $200
TOTAL: $2,292

The ELCA is paying me $10 an hour for 40 hours a week. I am making a very good wage—that is certainly not my complaint. However, I am realizing that there are major costs associated with starting a new job and the “in between time” between the move and the first pay check! Now, when I come across the facts in my ELCA World Hunger introductory materials that,

1 out of every 8 households in the United States has reduced the quality of its diet to utilize money elsewhere., and
37 million people (about one in eight) live in poverty even though most of them are working.

I have a new lens through which to view it.

Fortunately, I am blessed with a boyfriend, friends, and family who have provided for me during my interim, “in between time.” However, without that support system, my education, and my “privilege,” I would not have been able to spend this summer serving at the ELCA and gaining valuable life experience. It seems to me that the “American Dream” is quickly, if it has not already, becoming a myth.

What can I do to help, to advocate, to create and provoke change in society? Hopefully, I will uncover answers and inklings during this sure-to-be fruitful summer with ELCA World Hunger!
Peace, Mikka McCracken