Food is not something we typically think of as being scarce in this country, but for nearly 49 million Americans, having enough to eat isn’t always a given. I was shocked when I first learned this statistic – that 1 in 6 persons in our nation is food insecure – and over the past several weeks, I’ve become much more educated about the myriad ways I can get involved to bring about a solution to this very solvable problem. Organizations like Feeding America and Share Our Strength are doing work nationally to raise funds and increase awareness for ground level, local hunger relief efforts. If you’d like to learn more about them and how you can help, be sure to check out my suggestions at the bottom of this post and on my recently updated Help End Hunger page.
The statistics I mentioned above are staggering, yet it’s easier than I want to admit for me to coldly brush them off, forgetting that each number represents a hurting person. My heart is hard at times, and I am so consumed by the task of caring for my own family that I fail to see opportunities to help those in need. It’s for this reason that I am thankful for individuals like my mom who are willing to speak out and share their story, providing a context for this very real problem. I always had a vague awareness that she was not well cared for as a child, but earlier this week I got to chat with her about some of the details as it pertained to hunger specifically.
My mom shared that while there were various financial struggles throughout her childhood, the timeframe during her 1st and 2nd grade years was particularly hard. It wasn’t just that money was tight – that would have been challenging enough – but there was also an element of parental neglect that left her and her siblings to fend for themselves, sometimes for weeks on end. Her mother, who was often depressed and engaged in drug use, would disappear and the kids (ages 5, 7, and 11 at the time) would be home alone, doing their best to make meals out of what they had. None of them knew how to cook so they’d go through the pantry and combine various ingredients in an attempt to create something edible. They’d stir water into cake mix, eating it with a spoon, and finally when they ran out of food, my mom’s brother would take the kids to their aunt’s house where they would stay until their mother returned.
She regularly went to school hungry, dirty, and barefoot, but I am grateful that God placed someone in her life to watch over her in a season when it was most needed. It was a school teacher, an older woman on the cusp of retirement, that took my mom under her wing, providing her with breakfast each day and even a new pair of Chuck Taylor-style tennis shoes. She didn’t shame her or make a big deal out of it, but my mom knew that if she came to her classroom before school, the teacher would have her sit at a desk near her own, and a muffin and a carton of milk would be waiting for her.
In one sense, the actions of this teacher seem small. The cost of the shoes and meals probably didn’t add up to much, but I have no doubt that the impact she made in my mother’s life was significant. She met her physical needs, but she also brought joy to a child who, from my perspective, didn’t have a lot to be joyful about. I couldn’t resist smiling when my mom told me about a time when she was asked to quiet down after loudly singing about her “bright red shoes” while using the restroom adjacent to the classroom. If I had been the teacher, I imagine my heart would have just melted in that moment, knowing that my actions brought delight to a child in the midst of hardship.
Why do I share this story? One reason, as I mentioned already, is to shed light on the humanity behind the numbers, and another is to bring attention to the impact that we can make as individuals. Donating to food banks and hunger relief organizations is a huge way we can get involved, but it’s possible that there’s an opportunity right before our eyes to help someone that we know personally. There is a lot of shame that can enshroud these issues, and as was the case with my mother, sometimes kids don’t even know to speak up and say that they are hungry. Share Our Strength has a list of hunger signs on their website; it is written specifically about children in the classroom, but I think the general principles can be applied to all ages and scenarios. The bottom line is: if you know someone is in need, don’t ignore it. Step in, get involved, and help them get something to eat. It will cost you very little, but it might mean the world to them.
Here’s a list of ideas if you are looking for additional ways to join the hunger relief effort and spread the word:
- Go Orange! Increase awareness by donating a Facebook status, tweet, or avatar today, September 6th. The theme of this year’s Hunger Action Month is “Speak Out Against Hunger”; the more we talk about these issues, the more those struggling with hunger will speak up and get the help they need.
- Dine Out for No Kid Hungry. During the month of September, select restaurants will be running various promotions to raise money for Share Our Strength, an organization that focused specifically on eradicating childhood hunger. This is their biggest fundraiser of the year, and in 2012, the event brought in over $2 million. Check out their site to find a participating business near you.
- Locate a food bank in your area, then donate food items, money, or your time to help end hunger where you live.
If you choose to participate in any of these initiatives, I’d love to hear about what you are doing in the comments so that we can be encouraged as we labor together!