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Hunger Ends Here

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Hunger Ends.

My Gosh. What if that were the headline tomorrow? What if you picked up the newspaper and instead of the bad news you generally brace yourself for, you found out we achieved something of value and that we did it together?

September is Hunger Action Month. It’s a nationally recognized time when we shine the spotlight on those who are struggling to put food on their tables. While frequently we think of people in need of food as those who are homeless (and yes! they obviously need food, too) but people who have an apartment, a mobile home or a rental home are also hungry. They skip meals in order to afford housing, healthcare, car insurance, shoes for their kids.

Full disclosure – I work at a Food Bank and my co-workers and I see so much hardship. We recently served a grandmother who has taken on the care of three grandchildren while her son undergoes cancer treatment. With frequency we serve women who have finally moved out of an abusive situation and need food for their kids while they go get their GED. We see people who work a couple of jobs, but have no benefits that include health coverage, so they pay all that out-of-pocket. Last year a middle school client told us that both his parents were laid off the same week. An earlier blog post of mine “Hunger is Not a Game” chronicles one encounter with a young boy carrying the weight of his family’s needs.

Solutions? Yes! We have masses of extra food in our country. Haven’t we all thrown out food and thought, someone should do something about this?

Through the generosity of grocery partners, our Food Bank receives food that is nearly at its sell-by date and we turn it around within 24 hours to our partners to distribute to seniors, children, families, workers. Farmers, ranchers, and neighborhood community gardens give us food for clients so they have fresh, nutritious food to eat. Food drives sponsored by companies, churches, community organizations help round out a lot of need. Quite honestly, we partner with the state welfare division to help the effort to sign up people for SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) so that clients have a reliable source to purchase food while their lives are in turmoil. The people our staff assists have heartbreaking stories. They’ve run out of options. They set aside their pride and apply so they can feed themselves and their families.

My friends who volunteer and work at the Food Bank describe their passion in this video.

Just interviewing them gave me the lump in my throat. It’s great to know people who truly care about others.

The theme for 2012 is Speak Out Against Hunger. I encourage you to get involved. Speak up. Volunteer. So much of our lives are spent on the surface. Go deep. This is one cause that has solutions.

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Hunger is Not a Game

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Connecting the dots.

Drawing the lines between what I read, what I believe, what I’ve learned and what I do. That’s been part of the fun and challenge of my reading goal for this year.

What I do is work for a food bank. I believe that no person should go hungry. I’ve learned that hunger is in unexpected places.

  • 1 in 4 children in Nevada do not know where their next meal is coming from
  • The Food Bank helps more than 97,000 people per month
  • The Food  Bank serves the hungry through 130+ partner agencies
  • The Food Bank and partners offer free meals to 28 sites in Washoe County during summer
  • The Food Bank of Northern Nevada distributed 10.5 million pounds of food last year.

But SOMETIMES statistics can’t tell the whole story of hunger.

Children care about hunger issues

A recent invitation to stage a food drive at a Sparks, NV elementary school during a special spring event revealed so much more.

This school is “over” standards that would make children eligible for government programs to address hunger and yet, and yet…as the young students and families brought contributions to the food drive, stories emerged.

“I was wondering about the food bank truck I see at Sparks Christian Fellowship,” asked a dad who had just donated a large bag of food to the barrel.

“Oh, it’s a pantry site and they sure could use some volunteers,” replied the Food Bank employee on site. But that’s wasn’t his question. He went on to explain that he and his family belong to a group of seasonally employed — those in the construction trades who don’t always have work in the winter months and need help with food. Because of the food drive, he now has some additional information on how to access food when his family needs it.

A sweet, blonde second-grade boy cruised by a couple times with his book bag slung over his shoulder, blue eyes seeking out a friend or two.

Later, a middle-aged woman with two children at the school donated another large bag of food and our employee thanks her for her donation, “You are welcome, she said, “I always give when I see a barrel. You see, I’ve stood in line for food from you. I know what it feels like and I want to give back. I’m all right now.”

This was turning into a very surprising food drive.

The night was pleasant as children dashed back and forth to classrooms playing games and earning raffle tickets for good reading habits. Among them was the second-grade boy, who shied away from the wave from our employee.

Whereupon a mother passed and commented, Food Bank, ahhh, I’ve always wondered — how can I volunteer?”

“How nice!” our Food Bank representative said, noting that she spoke with a Spanish accent. “We can certainly use bilingual help, if that would fit with you. We can use help with our Mobile Pantry program.” The outgoing mom took with her information on places she can help out with her skills.

Gosh, who knew that we would be collecting more than food? Always great to garner a volunteer.

Soon the children gathered in the multipurpose room for lemonade and books and a chance at the raffle, but our employee stayed outside with the food barrel, just in case.

The nicely dressed blonde boy — sporting a yellow lei that the school provided for the tropical theme — overcame his shyness momentarily and asked, “How much does this food cost?”

“Oh, sweetie, I”m not selling it. I’m collecting food.”

“But how much does it cost?” he persisted.

“If you don’t have any food to give tonight, that’s OK. There’ll be other times — other food drives,” our employee explained.

“But,” he said, gesturing to a pocket.

“No, no. I’m not selling the food. We give it away to people who are hungry.”

One look from him revealed the truth.

“Are you hungry right now buddy?”

“Yes.”

“No food at home?”

No.”

“Well, let’s get you some food right now,” she said in a quiet voice.” “I see you’ve got a bag with you now, can we slip some in there?”

Blondie’s head bobbed up and down, a smile creeping to his lips. “But I got a baby sister, and a mom…”

“Well, let’s pick out some food for them too — want to?”

Increased nodding of head. He stood on tip-toe looking into the Food Bank barrel. He picked out some turkey chili beans for himself, some soup for his mom. “But my sister, she’s just 18-months old. She can’t eat just anything,” came his words, almost in panic.

“OK, you and I are going to dig in here until we find something.”

At last they found some apple sauce, and he slipped this last can into his bag. “Oh, my mom is going to be SO happy!” he said.

The tears that had been gathering in my eyes began to leak out; I didn’t want him to see.

“You are a good boy,” I said. “And a good big brother.”

Off he scampered, eager to walk home and share this food.

He is the one in four who doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from — but he’s plainly not a statistic. He’s a little boy. A neighbor. A student. A friend. A Nevadan. A person.

This school now has information on our summer food program where children aged 1 to 18 can access food in area parks. It is a middle class school, but you see, pockets of hunger are everywhere, and the faces of hunger can surprise and enlighten. Even us.

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This, ladies and gentlemen, was a heart-wrenching experience for me. I carry that little boy with me every day to the food bank and from the food bank.  He reminds me that I can make a difference and that I am making a difference.

Chances are, wherever you live, there is a Food Bank. If you can, volunteer, or give a can of food to help.

As for reading, I do recommend “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America” by Ehrenreich, Barbara.