Get Involved,  Opinion

How you can help fight hunger in America

Hunger or “Food Insecurity” as the USDA defines it, is the lack of access to enough food for a person or all of the people in a household. In the United States, hunger isn’t caused by a lack of available food like in other countries, but rather the continued prevalence of poverty or people earning below a living wage.  A whopping 17% of Americans face hunger every day.  That equates to 1 in 6 people but it is so much more steep for children which is 1 in 5 and even steeper for minorities.  Imagine if you regrouped every household in America to consist of a Mother, Father and 4 Children.  This would be a daily crisis of choosing whom in every single household doesn’t eat today.  The reality of it is still astonishing to me.

Across the United States, Food Insecurity exists in nearly every single County in every State.  It is a local problem close to all of our homes.  There are millions and millions of households trying to rely on food banks and food pantries to ensure their household has enough to eat to stay health and nourished.  Over 20 million children currently receive free or reduced-price lunch each school day but less than half of these children will get breakfast.  School doesn’t last all year, so during the Summer only a mere 10% of these children will have access to a Summer food program.

I know I may be a little more biased towards highlighting the crisis as it affects children and this may be because I have always found it important to help children in America dealing with Hunger and Medical issues.  I have always found ways to be charitable whether it was working in a food kitchen, donating to grocery drives at the local store, purchasing 100 meals or 50 turkeys to help families have something to be thankful for on Thanksgiving.

I guess it was the need to do more that was a driving force behind my starting the NJ Mopar Group car club back in 2007.  While I am not involved today, the club continues and hopefully with the same focus of helping charities.  My goal was to ensure that 70% of the Car Shows and Events we did, somehow helped a charity and during the 7 years I was the President, we made an amazing difference by helping St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital with donations collected from our annual BBQ.  We also helped many food pantries all throughout New Jersey by creating Pantry Runs where we would collect food items for months and finally make a group trip to a different pantry to donate what we collected.  Many times we also helped to create bags of various items that would make a complete holiday meal for a family.  The pantry would then deliver these bags to hundreds of households in need.  I know in my heart that we did make a difference for many people but it just never seemed like enough to combat this growing problem.

So what can you do to help fight Food Insecurity in America, your State, your County, even your own Town?  I’d like to share with you some of the things that I do, Charities that I support and some things that I’ve learned that I feel helped me make a bigger difference.

  • First and foremost… donate throughout the year.  We has human beings naturally get more charitable during and around the holidays.  You will find that there is a boost in food donations around Thanksgiving and Christmas every year.  Food Insecurity doesn’t just occur during the holidays.  It is an issue that exists 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.  Consider planning your donations to local food pantries and food banks throughout the year, especially before and during the summer when schools are less likely to have food programs for children and impoverished parents may not have the opportunity to work as many hours for extra income.  Supermarkets have some great sales all throughout the year.  Use these sales as a way to build a routine for your charity work.
  • Here’s a startling statistic along with a tip… nearly 40% of all food in America is discarded. Not all of this can be attributed to or fixed by us.  Some of this is due to loss during Farming, Distribution, etc. America has however become a country of large portions, large plates and giant foods and excess unlike what you see in other countries.  This does mean that 25% of what we buy or eat is discarded. We waste between $1,365 and $2,275 per household annually on expired products, spoiled products or thrown away leftover portions.  Work with your family to make a conscious effort to not overbuy products and to only buy what you will use.  Also, when out dining, many restaurants will allow sharing of meals when they are larger plates.  Even if they charge you a $3.00 additional plate fee, you are saving the cost of an entire meal, 25-50% of which won’t be thrown away.  Not only will these changes help you not to be wasteful, but you may find that you have just a little more food or cash to donate to help feed a family.
  • Volunteer your time! and yes, that gets a big explanation point.  Organizations are always short staffed and looking for people to simply roll up their sleeves to help. Volunteering with a local Feeding America food bank, Church or State food bank or No Kid Hungry is a very rewarding experience and does help so many families in need right in your own backyard.
  • There was a point in my career that free time to volunteer was very hard to find. Many non-profit organization don’t always get food donations in the number or types of products that they need.  Often they will need to purchase food to create a certain number of meal kits or simply to keep the pantry shelves stocked.  This takes money so consider a monetary donation.  I few of my favorites are Feeding America, Action for Healthy Kids, No Kid Hungry or the Food Research and Action Center.  You can also find many local pantries or food banks that could also use a monetary donation.
  • Create your own food drive.  As I mentioned, we did this with our car club many times. Some organizations like Feeding America can help you organize a food drive by giving you some pointers, advice and resources to locate a local pantry to align with. Non-Perishable items, especially items like soup, canned vegetables and cereal, are always in great need.  Also, if you create a theme or event around your food drive, you will find that people are more willing to participate.  Sometimes people just need that extra nudge.
  • Talk to your favorite local restaurant and see if they will work with you to do a Dine to Donate event. Dine to Donate events usually involve a restaurant agreeing to donate a percentage of the cost of every meal (usually excluding drinks and alcohol) to the Non-Profit charity you agree on.

There are so many ways you can help. Here is a quick list of a few more simple ideas that are easy to implement and don’t take much planning.

  • Skip the Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee for a month, make coffee at home and donate your savings.
  • Plant an extra row or two of seeds in your home garden and donate the produce or sell the produce and donate the proceeds.
  • Have a garage sale or yard sale.  Get together with friends and neighbors and sell your old junk.  Donate the proceeds.
  • Buy double the number of items at the Can Can sale at your local grocery and donate the extra cans.
  • Hit social media.  It’s amazing how quickly social media can get the word out.  Use it to reach out and help with your pantry run, food collection or Dine to Donate event.

Come up with your own ideas.  I would love to hear what other creative ideas you may have or what kind of events you have planned to try and stomp our hunger in America. Post in the comments below and let me know when you are planning an event in your area and we’ll do our best to promote it.

Dave VanderWekke is former Electronic Engineer now Accomplished Software Engineer, former IBMer, amateur chef and amateur BBQ pit-master and definite Foodie. He is also a Paranormal Investigator, Ordained Minister and full time tinkerer into everything from Home Automation to A.I. and Robotics. Dave loves dining and dressing up for the occasion and thinks it's a lost art. "Sunday Supper should be something everyone does", says Dave. [More About Dave...]

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