The tall black man who came to their home would be their savior. Maria had lost her job and her daughter, Sonia, just two years old, was hungry. Maria had gone to the food shelter with Sonia, but she saw the social worker there, watching her, and she did not go back because she was afraid the woman would try to take Sonia away from her if she thought Maria could not care for her.
The tall man had a big smile and big ears. He said he was there to help her and her child. He asked if he could come inside. He asked her to trust him. She gave him the last cup of tea she had. With Sonia playing on the floor between them, he explained that he had a way to help them have all the food they needed. Not fancy food, but healthy and modest food that would help Sonia grow up strong and give Maria the stamina to be a good mother.
He called his idea the Affordable Food Plan. Everyone would all pay small amounts each month, whatever they could afford, based on their income, or nothing at all if they were making no money. As members of the AFP ("YoMamaCare," he called it, chuckling warmly and winking at Sonia), Maria and Sonia would be able to go to a network of places where they could get the food they needed.
The network was being set up by friends of his, the tall man with the warm smile said. His friends ran insurance companies. They would take the money that everyone gave, each according to his means, and they would use it to buy food that they would distribute to places that were convenient to Maria and all the others. He said again that it wouldn't be fancy food, but it would be nutritious.
When the man left, Maria took Sonia to the park. They were hungry, but the warm sun felt good, and the hope that the tall man had given her made her hunger seem bearable. He had said it would take a while for his friends at the insurance companies to set up the networks, but even that did not worry her. She and Sonia would get by until then. They would live on what they could get at the shelters and through the charity of strangers. They would live on the hope the man had given her.
When the day finally came that someone called and told her that the network had been set up and gave her the location of the place she and Sonia could go for food, she washed and dressed herself and her baby in their best clothes. She did not want to look like a beggar. She was not a beggar. She was a participant in the Affordable Food Plan. The tall man's friends had somehow, praise god, worked out a way to feed everyone with each person paying only what they could afford. It was a miracle. Like the Biblical story of the fishes and the the loves that fed the multitudes.
The place she was told to go was empty. There was no food. A man at the door said the food was coming. He told her to check back in a week. She told him they could not wait another week to eat. He just shrugged. She called the person who had told her where to go and got the location of another place. It had only cans of beans. Still, she was grateful for anything at that point. She took the beans home and she and Sonia ate them and gave thanks for the tall man and his friends at the insurance companies.
As the weeks went by, other food came to the places in the network. There was little variety, though, and the food was all very basic. Beans and rice, potatoes. There wasn't much milk for Sonia. Not much fruit. The people at the network stores told her that what they had was all the insurance companies would give them. The insurance companies said they could not afford better food or more variety.
As the years went on, Maria thought things would get better, but they did not. She got odd jobs now and then, but she couldn't work much because she had nowhere to leave Sonia except in the charity day care run by her church a few days a week. They lived on the food from the Affordable Food Plan network. The people there told her the insurance companies were giving them less and less. Sonia was surviving, but just barely. Maria was sure her little girl wasn't as big as she should be for her age. Sometimes Sonia seemed so listless that Maria just held her close and cried, as if her tears might somehow give her daughter strength.
She passed a tavern on her way home with Sonia one day and saw a television over the bar with the tall man speaking. Someone was asking him about the Affordable Food Plan. He said his enemies were working to undermine its funding. Someone else asked him if his enemies were the insurance companies, the ones he used to say were his friends. Maria could not hear his answer, for someone jostled her on the sidewalk just then and Sonia called out and threw her arms around her neck and said she was hungry.