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We are so bombarded with reminders each Thanksgiving that we should give thanks every day for the blessings in our life. Do you have any thoughts on how we can put that sentiment into action throughout the year?
You raise an essential sentiment and an important question. It reminded me of a recent blog I read in Examiner.com that advised us that if we are to get the most joy out of family holiday gatherings such as Thanksgiving, we should look at the food we share as only “a tangible sign that we live in a great country at a great time in history, with ample blessings and amazing opportunity.”
As true as it may be that we continue to live in a land of opportunity, it is hard to count your blessings if a friend or loved one at the table is out of work or struggling financially. It is harder still when we think of the growing ranks of the homeless and the hungry in our country. According to a September study released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one in five children in our own nation will go hungry today and the days that follow. For them, food is a constant worry.
Kate Atwood is the executive director of the Arby’s Foundation, a nonprofit group that is part of a public-private partnership with a mission to end childhood hunger in America and ensure that children have access to wholesome food every day. In 2011, the Arby’s Foundation pledged $1 million dollars toward that effort. Its customers added more than $1.8 million dollars last year.
In a recent blog posting, Atwood reminds us of the scope and consequences of this problem. While it is happening “in our own backyards,” it is sometimes difficult for people to see. She talks about how, fresh on the job, she had difficulty understanding what childhood hunger looks like in America, the land of plenty. It clearly was not analogous to the images of starvation we are all too familiar with from around the globe.
For her, it took a letter from a childhood friend confessing her own struggles with hunger that provided the insight she needed.
“Here was a person with whom I walked the halls every day in middle school and high school, and I had no idea – no clue she was starving,” says Atwood. “In her letter, she wrote about the most vulnerable and scary times of her youth, going days with no more than a slice of toast.”
Her friend closed the letter with the confession: “I know how hard it is, and I know how much a child’s instinct is to keep it a secret.”
“Hunger exists in every community, and the fight to end it looks differently in every neighborhood,” Atwood reminds us. “This crisis is not just an appetite issue. It’s an education issue; a health issue; a future workforce issue.”
The idea that nutrition affects children’s ability to learn is not new, as an October 2002 article in Pediatrics magazine (Volume 110, Number 4) reminds us. Hunger and poor nutrition are directly linked to cognitive development and academic performance.
One study cited by Pediatrics found that among fourth-grade students, those who had the least protein intake in their diets had the lowest achievement scores. Children who are hungry or undernourished also have more difficulty fighting infection and are more likely to become sick, miss school and fall behind in class.
Futurist Alvin Toffler once predicted that “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”
In addition to a future workforce issue, hunger and poor nutrition may well be contributing to problems with the current one. With each passing day, it is becoming more and more obvious that, as a nation, millions of America’s young people entering the workforce are inadequately prepared. A testament to this failure can be found in stagnant standardized test scores and low high school graduation rates.
It is hard to imagine that a habitual problem of poor nutrition and hunger is not a factor. Yes, no child should be left behind in relation to opportunities to get a good education and in living a prosperous life. And no child should go hungry.
The Arby’s Foundation, working closely with the No Kid Hungry Campaign, is just one example of someone within the food industry stepping up to join the efforts to end childhood hunger in America. Supporting such efforts is one way to help year round.
Another way is to find your local food bank and discover what you can do to help in your own community, especially during the holidays, when school is out and the needs can be greater. You can do this by visiting the Feeding America website at feedingamerica.org/foodbank.
There is a wonderful anonymous quote that says, “If you continually give, you will continually have.” It is a message that rings true year round. My wife, Gena, and I wish all of you a healthy and happy holiday season. May your hearts and lives be full.
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.