1) a compelling need or desire for food. 2) the painful sensation or state of weakness caused by the need of food: to collapse from hunger. 3) a shortage of food; famine.
While many people tend to think of hunger as a distant problem, only in underdeveloped countries, the reality is that 36 million Americans struggle daily against hunger. Though sufferers may not be to the point of starvation, millions are undernourished and in turn face serious health risks. While people often say “hungry kids live in Africa,” while this may be true, what they really should be saying is “there are hungry men, women, children, and elders down the street in your neighborhood in the U.S.A.,” as these are the new faces of hunger.
It’s startling to know that 1 out of 8 Americans go hungry – nearly 12% of the population. Sadly, this static includes over 13 million children. With so many difficulties and challenges that our youth will face growing up, the lack of food and nourishment from an early age can be detrimental. Children who are lacking protein, vitamins, dairy, and nutrients are more likely to have developmental problems physically, mentally, and emotionally. We often talk about the future laying in the hands of our children. But it is impossible to place such responsibility on their shoulders when they don’t have enough food in their stomachs. One of the biggest ways of combating childhood hunger is through schools. In 1946, the National School Lunch Program was created to offer free or reduced price lunches. This program has since expanded to include a breakfast program as well. Unfortunately, of the 18 million children that qualified for lunch, only 8 million participated in the breakfast program. What can be done to increase this number? First and foremost, we need to vocalize and speak out to encourage policy makers to increase incentives to schools to establish breakfast programs as well as offer further reductions in the cost of meals to children. Children who are properly nourished will in turn pay more attention in school, function better in their everyday lives, and most importantly have healthier body development.
The second major group of victims of hunger is the elderly. The main reasons our elders suffer from malnutrition is the lack of access to proper foods and lack of money to afford these foods. With so many seniors housebound, it’s important for neighbors to come forward and help buy groceries and assist in getting the proper foods to those who can’t make it to the store on their own. Additionally, it’s important to support local non-profits with meal delivery services such as Meals on Wheels. For low-income and fixed-income elderly, they are often forced to use the money they do have to afford housing and medical costs. This often comes at the expense of food. While food stamp programs are available, only 30% of qualifying seniors over age 60 actually participate. Often this is due to difficulty filling out the application, lack of understanding about food stamps, or lack of access to government offices. Again, it is important for neighbors and neighborhood organizations to help local seniors to gain access to food stamps and food assistance programs.
Hunger is not just a problem faced by the unemployed. Thousands of households living below the poverty line include at least one working adult. Unfortunately, the poor working class is faced with the impossible decision of whether to use money for food, or for other necessities like clothing or rent or healthcare. With the current economy, more and more families are finding themselves lacking the basic necessary food items they need. In a study by Feeding America in 2005, of the families they support with one adult working, the average monthly income was $860. As with children and seniors, helping to make food more available and accessible will greatly help these families. By increasing the scope of food stamp programs and funded meals in schools, it will help feed these families and allow them to use the little money they have towards shelter, clothing and other basic necessities.
With today’s economy taking a toll on almost all aspects of our lives, one of the places that are being hardest is one of the basic necessities of life – food. Hunger is a serious problem. About 24,000 people in the world die every day from hunger related causes. Particularly in the U.S., the problem is not a lack of food, but instead the inability of families, children, and elders to afford to purchase food. There are a number of things that you and I can do to help. First and foremost, ADVOCATE! I cannot say it enough. Write or call both your local and national government officials. Express your concern that the fight against hunger is a legislative priority. Encourage your elected officials to support government-funded meals in schools, so that more families will be able to afford them. Secondly, spread the message to your friends, neighbors, and colleagues. The more knowledgeable people are on the issue, the more likely they will become involved. Take a moment to visit Feeding America’s Hunger Action Center, by clicking here. In addition to extensive information, they also provide a sign up to become a hunger advocate, and provide ideas and forums for you to take action. Lastly, I encourage you to support your local food pantry. In 2008, there was a 30% increase in demand at food banks around the country. These providers rely heavily on donations, which need to happen all year round, not just during the holidays. In addition to donating food, if you are able to, consider taking the time to volunteer. If you live in the NY area, click here to visit City Harvest’s website. City Harvest provides food to more than 600 emergency food programs in New York City. There are 1.5 million New Yorkers currently living in poverty. Of that, more than one million rely on emergency food at some point during the year, including nearly 350,000 children and more than 140,000 elderly. [Statistics taken from City Harvest’s website].
As “the nation’s leading domestic hunger relief charity,” Feeding America has an incredible website with vast amounts of information on the topic, ways to help, and locations of local food banks. Please click here to visit their website to learn more about fighting hunger in America. Additionally, by only donating $1, you can help them provide 10 pounds of food and groceries to families across the country!
Peace and blessings,
Materials compiled from FeedingAmerica.org.