Food insecurity is a very real problem in our country. Want to help? Here are eight simple things you can do to help fight hunger in your community.
Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own first-world food problems that we forget there are people in our own communities–including children who sit alongside our kids in the classroom–who worry about simply having enough food to eat on a daily basis. I’m so happy to have Clancy Harrison, a fellow registered dietitian and a passionate advocate for food justice–guest posting today about what we can do right now!
by Clancy Harrison, MS, RDN, FAND
Hunger is a major public health concern in the United States impacting nearly 50 million people and is especially crushing to children. Before I became the president of The Al Beech West Side Food Pantry, I had many misconceptions surrounding hunger and poverty in the United States. I thought hunger and poverty was associated with people living in chronic poverty. I was wrong.
The truth is, poverty is mostly caused by a temporary situation. Many people live a paycheck away from making the hard decision between electricity, medication, and gas for food. The loss of a family member, birth of a child, reduced wages, a natural disaster, and even the break down of a car can put a family over the edge.
Serving food pantry clients for over five years, I witness the real face of hunger daily. The real face of hunger looks like all of us. In the United States, hunger is an invisible epidemic because it is often associated with a normal weight instead of the stereotypically visualization of hunger, which includes children with bloated bellies, sunken eyes, and skinny limbs.
If we want to curb our nation’s food insecurity epidemic, we must collectively change the way we view, treat, and talk about poverty in the United States.
8 Strategies to Fight Hunger in Your Community:
1| Organize a food sorting play date
Call your local food pantry to determine the next food donation delivery date and time. Let the food pantry know you hope to organize a volunteer day for kids. Older kids can inspect the food for expired product and damaged goods. Younger kids can organize the food by product while the parents carry heavy items to storage.
2| Learn about the #GiveHealthy campaign
#GiveHealthy uses technology so people can donate fresh fruits, fresh vegetables and other healthy food to local food pantries and organizations. To get involved and learn how it works, visit Give Healthy.
3| Know the best canned foods to donate
When donating food, know which foods are the most nourishing and non-perisable. Food pantries appreciate canned foods such as:
- canned tuna or salmon
- canned chicken
- canned beef
- peanut butter
- canned beans
- canned fruits and vegetables that contain no added salt or sugar
4| Donate garden surplus
Every vegetable counts. While one piece of produce seems small, it makes a big difference in someone’s life. If everyone donated garden surplus to a local food pantry, there would be plenty of food to share. Storage space for fresh produce might not be available. Ask the food pantry when they distribute the food and drop of the produce off at that time.
5| Don’t forget toiletries
Food is always needed but toiletries are important and often overlooked. The best items to donate include: shampoo, soap, toothpaste, feminine hygiene products, diapers, and laundry detergent.
6| Pass on your FREE plastic shopping bags
When you are done shopping at the grocery store, instead of tossing out the plastic shopping bags, donate them to your local food pantry. Food pantries need bags to pack and distribute the food.
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7| Share your passion in life!
Reach out to your local food pantry and volunteer your interests and expertise. While it’s great to have people available to pack food for client pick up, it’s even better to have people with passion. Sample ideas and passion donations to the Al Beech Food Pantry include:
- Student volunteers have played their instruments during food distribution. Our clients experience the sounds of flutes, guitars, and pianos while picking up their food orders.
- A college student volunteer brought her gift of photography to help with the social media promotion of our FREE bi-weekly farmer’s market.
- A senior gentleman volunteer built us new shelves to ensure safety of our volunteers.
8| Transform thoughts through compassion
Learn about hunger by listening to stories around you. If you have been on a food assistance program yourself, refer to it as a positive influence in your life. For example, if you participated in the National School Lunch Program, consider how it helped you succeed in school. Would you have been able to concentrate on your spelling test? Would you be where you are today if you did not have access to the program?
My mission is to decrease the stigma associated with food assistance programs in the hopes that more families will take advantage of programs such as food stamps and school nutrition programs. Food assistance programs give parents access to better food options and decrease the stress caused by the fear of running out of food.
Photos courtesy of Clancy Harrison