All around our country, annual food and toy drives are moving into full swing in this season of giving. So it seemed fitting that along with all the talk about Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we should add to the conversation Giving Tuesday, which happened Dec. 2. Started two years ago by the United Nations Foundation, this effort to utilize the Internet and social media to increase holiday donations to worthy nonprofits around the world generated $19.2 million last year.
And if your annual giving includes your local food bank, know that your gift is needed now maybe more than ever. Feeding America, a leading national clearinghouse for food donations – with a network of 200 food banks across the country – is seeing a 30 percent increase this year in requests for emergency food assistance.
Before you make that donation, I have but one request. Ponder for a moment the nutritional labels of the can in your hand. Then think for a moment of the wonderful opportunity before you to use your gift of food to open up a world of better food choices for people in need.
“It’s not enough to fill empty stomachs,” says hunger specialist Ruthi Solari about this year’s giving. “The opposite of being hungry isn’t being full; it’s being healthy.”
Shockingly, 1 in 7 Americans visited a food pantry in 2013, according to a national survey conducted by Feeding America. Among them are the elderly, single parents and veterans. Though great strides have been made to reduce the number of homeless veterans in recent years, nearly 500,000 remain on the streets, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Because so many of these people in need are also struggling with diet-related diseases, such as diabetes, hunger relief groups are putting a much stronger emphasis on providing healthful food and facilitating good eating habits.
Instead of using food banks as an opportunity to clean out our cabinets, there is a resounding appeal for providing those who have fallen on hard times with the foods they need. These foods include nourishing, nutritionally dense nonperishables – such as lentils, canned tuna or salmon, peanut butter without added oils or sugars, brown rice, quinoa, and kidney beans – in place of pantry rejects.
People with food allergies or celiac disease often can’t find donated food they can eat. Gluten-free foods are greatly needed, as well as allergen-free items. If you donate such products, make sure they are marked clearly in large print to help volunteers get the right food to the right people.
Not only do many food banks accept non-food items, but also there is a great need for them, for they can’t be purchased with food stamps. Among needed items are soap, toilet paper, feminine hygiene products, diapers and pet food. Make sure they will be accepted by your local food bank before you add them to your donation.
Far too many of the hungry in America are children. Try to include in your donation at least one item you’d choose as a treat for your kids.
There are many places available to find out more about the foods needed for donation, among them the Feeding America website.
But it is also high time we came to terms with the greater reality here: Hunger in America is not just a seasonal problem.
As pointed out by the Christian nonprofit group Bread for the World, poverty in the United States has been measured for decades, but measuring hunger, or what the U.S. government calls “food insecurity,” is a more recent phenomenon.
Today approximately 49 million people in the United States live in “food-insecure” households, with nearly 16 million of them being children, according to September Department of Agriculture data. Wherever poverty exists, hunger exists, as well.
Says Bread for the World: “In the United States, hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food. There is more than enough food to feed everyone. We have the infrastructure to deliver it. There is a network of interstate highways and a trucking industry ready to move mountains of food daily wherever it needs to go. The supermarket store shelves are stocked to the ceiling. But none of this matters if customers have no money in their pockets. Poverty spoils every meal.”
This is not just an issue that affects the homeless. Many of our neighbors during these hard times have been forced to choose between paying for utilities and food.
Families become hunger-free when they can provide for themselves. We need jobs that pay enough for a family to live on. It is about not a handout but a leg up.
It is our moral responsibility. Food is a basic need. That so many people go without enough to eat in this nation of plenty is unjust. God’s grace in Jesus Christ moves us to help our neighbors. Let us use this holiday season to remind ourselves of the greater task ahead in confronting the crippling problem that is hunger in America.
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.