On Monday, I went on an assignment to take photos of the hundreds of Cal Lutheran University students who volunteered their time to clean up the various encampments along the Ventura River bottom. I managed to get there about 45 minutes early, and began talking to some of the volunteers from the City of Ventura. While my purpose was to focus on the students, I realized after speaking with the volunteers that there was much more to the event than just picking up trash.

Two volunteers decided to take me on a tour of the camp grounds. I had no idea what I was in for.

After walking briefly on a narrow hiking trail, we started to see evidence of life: a couple of shopping carts, several pairs of blue jeans, dismantled bikes, empty food containers, a dirty futon mattress, etc. It took but a few minutes to find numerous vast burrows made of arundo (a tall grass similar to bamboo) — some stretching back 20 feet or so. Most entry ways weren’t much more than crawl spaces.

And there we were, in the middle of this homeless community, looking around at the remnants of what others call home. And the one thing that stood out to me the most was an empty container of Dreyer’s ice cream. It may seem insignificant to just about everyone else, but I couldn’t help thinking about what it took for this person to get a frozen treat back to his or her shelter and then to eat it fast enough that it wouldn’t melt in the heat of summer; or perhaps he or she ate it in his or her good time, not caring what state the ice cream was in. Most people would turn up their noses at melted ice cream, but looking at the empty box, perhaps however it was, was good enough.

September is Hunger Action Month. While I don’t necessarily believe that singling out one month to be the month when we should be compelled go above and beyond, versus what we should be doing year round, I do believe that this month, and especially in this year of economic recession, we should be deliberate in our actions to help others. While tackling the issue of homelessness like what I saw in the river bottom is a huge and complicated effort, we can, nevertheless, realistically implement practical initiatives to feed the estimated 41,000 people who go to bed hungry every night in Ventura County.

Many people right here in our community are coming up with clever ways to provide nourishment for the hungry while not depriving themselves of necessary food. In our news section this week is an article (p. 8) dedicated to the various ways our local gardeners and food bank have been able to donate, share, barter or even sell extra produce items grown at their homes or churches. FOOD Share’s community-based program, Garden Share, is an excellent example of how one person or a small group of people can do something just a little different in their daily lives to help someone in need, such as planting an extra row of crops in your garden or planting a garden at a community center and/or church and reaping the harvest to give to others.

While it is inevitable that many people will take the time to come up with excuses not to go the extra mile, or crop row for that matter, why not just use that time to do the right thing? And just as most people would look at an empty container of ice cream and think it is just another piece of trash, to someone else, there may be a story or an epiphany to behold. Doing the right thing just isn’t as hard as we make it out to be. I encourage you to plant tomatoes this year, and not rose gardens; cucumbers instead of tulips; zucchini instead of pansies, etc. While vegetables may not be quite as pretty, knowing your food has gone to feed a hungry family should be just as rewarding, if not more so, as a colorful flower garden.