On the same day first lady Michelle Obama kicked off her campaign against childhood obesity, Denny’s restaurant chain gave away Grand Slam breakfasts to one and all between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. How ironic is that?
For the record, a Grand Slam with its 2 eggs, 2 pancakes, 2 slices of bacon and 2 sausage links contains more than 800 calories and more than 69 grams of fat.
I heard about the Grand Slam giveaway during Sunday’s Super Bowl game, and immediately announced to Sweetheart Al, "They’re going to run out of food way before 2 p.m." I was referring to the only Denny’s in our area, in neighboring Amador County.
We live in Calaveras County. The poverty level is spiking in both foothill counties.
Calaveras unemployment is around 16 percent. In some of our communities, 25 percent of the workforce are jobless. Contractors are pawning their tools to put food on the table. Real estate professionals are on food stamps. Shop owners are selling personal items on E-Bay to try and keep their stores open. And hundreds of families are lining up at food pantries.
You can imagine what a free meal would mean in a world like this.
I decided to check out my thesis, and get my own 800-calorie, 69 grams of fat Grand Slam breakfast today, so I drove 45 minutes to Denny’s. I arrived at 11 am, five hours into the give-away. The parking lot was full. The restaurant was fuller.
While outside rain poured, inside folks were squeezed as tight as toothpaste in a half rolled up tube. There were men in ball caps and Stetsons, tall boys in droopy shorts and hoodies, grandmas with canes, little girls in dresses and leggings, young moms carrying babies on their hips.
Three kids who looked high school age were standing next to me. "Are you in school?" I asked. They laughed and said they were.
"Are you supposed to be in class right now?" I asked.
"Yes, but we’ve got a chance to get a free Grand Slam," the boy said.
"And it’s not like we’re skipping physics or anything," one of the girls said. They giggled in that loosely giddy group way high school kids have.
Everyone seemed happy to stand around in a crowd, waiting for a free meal.
People in wheelchairs crowded in along with middle aged men wearing jeans and work boots.
Those who had already eaten struggled to get out. "Boy this is like a salmon going upstream," one woman said pushing through the crowd, heading for the exit.
They seated me in the banquet hall, the restaurant and bar being already full to capacity.
The waitresses kept the atmosphere light. "Let me guess, five Grand Slams?" they’d say to a table of five. And everyone would laugh.
Waiting for breakfast, folks nursed cups of coffee and visited. Young women talked about their children. Gray haired people talked about their grandchildren. And it was clear, getting a free meal on a cold rainy day, was a big deal.
On my way out, I asked the manager how many free meals he expected to serve today. He said 1,500. That’s about two percent of the combined population of Amador and Calaveras counties.
Denny’s didn’t run out of food. And it looked like everyone was having a good time, despite the caloric intake.
While childhood obesity is a serious national problem, and I commend Michelle Obama for taking it on, right now in our neck of the woods, finding the next meal for children is more important.
When people can once again start earning a regular paycheck, I bet they’ll be ready to tackle the childhood obesity problem.
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