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I’m reading the book “Becoming” by Michelle Obama. It’s not especially political—mostly it’s her personal story about growing up, getting educated, having a career, getting married, having children and then being the First Lady.

All pretty typical until that last part!

You wouldn’t expect it, but in her early life Michelle Obama had a lot in common with people we serve at Stepping Stones.

She grew up in a working class neighborhood and writes that the margins between stability and poverty always felt narrow.

“One missed paycheck could leave you without electricity; one missed homework assignment could put you behind and possibly out of college. …I’d learned that the world could be brutal and random, that hard work didn’t always assure positive outcomes. …I’d seen the flimsy line that separated getting by and going under,” Obama wrote.

I just read somewhere else recently that 40 percent of North Americans say they couldn’t handle an unexpected $400 expense—say, for example, the furnace goes out or a pipe freezes. Not that anything like that would’ve happened to anyone in Wisconsin recently!

In order to handle an emergency expense many people would have to miss a utility payment or their rent.

Or maybe they wouldn’t be able to put gas in their car or pay for their prescriptions.

“So many of us,” writes Obama, “had the same struggles, the same concerns for our kids and worries about the future.”

She wanted to do something about it, to help make the world a better place. Feeling fortunate herself, she said she felt “an obligation not to be complacent.”

A couple of her primary initiatives as First Lady dealt with getting more nutritious food to children, especially through school lunches, and reducing childhood obesity both through better eating and more exercise—issues people anywhere on the political spectrum can surely support.

The thing about hunger and poverty is that they don’t choose sides.

Democrat or Republican, Christian or Muslim, black or white—or any other colors, religions, or political persuasions—anyone can experience economic hardship.

I find it inspiring to read about people working to address these realities. It helps me not be complacent, too.

The awareness that there are a lot of people in this together—nationally, globally, and locally, too—a lot of people who want to make the world and their own communities a better place, gives me hope.

Another source of this kind of hopefulness is when a lot of people come together to make a difference. There’s an opportunity like this coming up soon in our community and you don’t even have to read a book; you can just eat soup.

We hope you will join us for EMPTY BOWLS: Saturday, March 2, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. at Menomonie High School.

Visit our website for more details: Support the Stepping Stones’ food pantry and shelters. Have fun and do good at the same time.

This event is sure to address any feelings of complacency (and cabin fever) and to leave you feeling hopeful.

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Katherine Dutton is the executive director of Stepping Stones of Dunn County. She can be reached at


Dunn County News editor

Barbara Lyon is the editor of The Dunn County News in Menomonie, WI.

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