A series highlighting charities and organizations close to our hearts.
It’s been difficult to figure out how to write about food banks. We all know what they are. We’ve all collected and donated canned foods, usually right around this time of year. We think about hunger the most when we’re gearing up for our huge feast day, Thanksgiving, a day where Americans celebrate abundance and fortune. We think about the wonderful things in our life and in our show of excess, we make a show of helping those who have less, then move on to Christmas lists and New Years’ Eve plans.
Hunger is weird, we all experience it daily but once we’re eating, promptly forget it. We say we’re starving constantly, starving when it’s been 3 hours since our last meal. We eat until we hurt, we throw away food because we have too much, we eat constantly, mindlessly. We reach for a snack at the very first twinge of emptiness. Most of us don’t really understand hunger as a condition, as a way of life; for us it’s only an inconvenience.
The sad, terrifying news is that hunger is a growing epidemic in our country. An unstable economy with an ever widening gap between the haves and have-nots, high unemployment, a loud, angry political movement bent on eliminating services for the poor, our general apathy – they all mean more and more people spend their days hungry. Free breakfast and lunches at school may be the only time some children get to eat, and of course these programs are some of the first to be eliminated when a school district is underfunded and federal subsidies are cut. Other programs like WIC (which provides vouchers for staples like baby formula, milk, bread and cheese) and SNAP (food stamps) have more applicants than money and those with these benefits are seeing them reduced.
This puts more and more demand on private charity organizations, which have almost always had the issue of more demand than supply. Food banks can step in and help, but only if they have actual food to distribute. Hunger is a year round issue and the donations given in the excitement of the holidays doesn’t last. Many food banks receive donations from grocery stores and distributors – I know of one store where I used to live that donates it’s leftover bakery items, I’m sure others do similar things, and this is the bulk of their donations most of the time. It’s good, but not nearly enough.
So, what can you or I do? That’s the thing about food banks – they are incredibly easy to help. Clean your pantry and donate non-perishable items directly to your nearest food bank. Check with them, most will accept grocery store gift cards. I was in Kroger yesterday and was able to buy a pre-packaged box of food for $10.95, which the store then donates for you – there is literally no inconvenience whatsoever; I just didn’t buy fancy chili powder that I’d use maybe three times a year and I fed a family for a week. They are easy to find – search for food banks in your area or check out feedingamerica.org. Make it a part of your routine – grab xyz from the grocery store once a month or once a week, ask co-workers and friends to contribute, check in with your food bank and see if there’s any non-food items or help they need. The battle to end hunger can be fought with such little effort, there’s no reason to stay out of it.