According to census statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for 2008, 49 million Americans struggled to put food on the table. Although two-thirds managed to find help through government programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or from local or regional soup kitchens, one-third went to bed hungry. Of those, more than half a million were households with children.
In a tight economy, everyone suffers. Because people are making less and worrying more, they give less. At a time when more people need help, many local and regional philanthropic resources are scrambling. Every contribution helps, and there are lots of ways to make a difference. These 10 suggestions will feed hungry children and families either directly or through small changes that help conserve resources or use them more productively.
Play for Free Rice
Free Rice is an online multiple choice trivia game that helps feed the world's hungry. For each correct answer, game sponsors will donate 10 grains of rice for distribution worldwide. Started in October 2007 by John Breen and later donated to the United Nations World Food Programme in conjunction with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, freerice.com is a working example of how a small idea can make a huge difference in combating hunger. Free Rice needs players to succeed, so test your trivia smarts and donate to a good cause by winning rice for the world's hungry.
In the United States, there are more than 63,000 agencies that distribute 2.5 billion pounds of food to the hungry every year. There are lots of ways you can lend a hand and help make that job a little easier. Although helping out at a soup kitchen around the holidays is a thoughtful choice, food banks and local agencies helping hungry families are looking for enthusiastic volunteers 12 months a year. If you can drive a car, take an inventory, sort and container goods, design a Web site or make calls to solicit donations, your regional food bank, a local low-income day care center, group home, soup kitchen or senior care center will probably be able to take advantage of your special skills.
Use Less Energy
Energy and other commodities become more expensive when the demand is high, raising the cost for everyone. When energy costs skyrocket, the price of food goes up, too, making it harder to feed a family on a tight budget. When we conserve resources like fuel, there's more for everyone and costs stay low. Insulate your home, buy energy-efficient light bulbs and walk to the store or to school instead of driving. Buy your produce locally, too, from a farmers market or food cooperative. Locally grown foods and locally manufactured goods typically use less energy because they incur are fewer transportation and staging costs.
According to Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief charity in the United States, a $1 donation can provide seven meals to a hungry family. Even at that, the task of feeding the hungry within our borders is a costly enterprise. Economic woes and high unemployment have led to an increase of families living at or below the poverty line. In 2008, 49 million households qualified for the Department of Agriculture's "food insecurity" ranking for people who have inadequate access to nourishing food. That number is at an all-time high. The USDA recommends that you support your local food banks and food pantries by donating money, goods or your expertise.
Find Your Voice
Giving a dollar is a good way to help feed the hungry, but encouraging five other people to give a dollar, conserve energy or volunteer helps to build a community of responsible, caring citizens. A high tide raises all boats, and when you encourage others to raise community awareness of the problem, everyone benefits. Imagine if the five people you inspired turned around and inspired five more. Children who are well-fed are better students. Adults who don't have to worry as much about feeding their families can be more productive neighbors, citizens and workers. Write your local newspaper; blog about hunger in America; promote the topic on your local public access, news talk radio or television stations. Write your representatives in Congress about your concerns. Get involved.
Rethink Your Food Choices
Elaborately packaged and resource intensive foods can be wasteful. Think of land, raw materials and even plants as limited resources. It takes 16 pounds of grain to produce every pound of meat sold at market. If we collectively eat less meat, there'll be more grain available for everyone. Everything we buy as consumers is finite. Deciding how to make the best use of our resources is an important consideration for the health of our planet and to feed hungry populations around the world and here at home.
Waste Less Food
Americans waste 96 billion pounds of food each year. According to the USDA's, "Estimating and Addressing America's Food Losses," nourishing food -- and lots of it -- is going down the garbage disposal. In the past decade or so, restaurants have been exaserbating the problem, too. Plates are bigger, portions are enormous and you can super size just about anything. But this can all be avoided.
The next time you eat out, bring home half of your entree and eat it the next day. When you cook, make smaller portions. Eat everything you prepare, and shop with conservation instead of abundance in mind.
Your consumer habits can have global importance, so buy, work, play and discard responsibly. If we focus on conservation and good stewardship, we can all help to maximize the food resources we have and make more of them available to those in need. Fair trade, sustainability and planet positive choices are all interrelated. Learning about agribusiness, food distribution, community infrastructures and avenues for charitable action will help you understand and show your children the best way to build a community where no child goes hungry.
Recognize the Face of Hunger
There are more hungry people than you may realize, and no community is immune. From the elderly on fixed incomes to families struggling with downsizing and prolonged unemployment, hunger has moved into upscale neighborhoods, into the suburbs and probably to a location near you. Fresh produce from your garden, canned food from your pantry, and your loose change can all help families like yours stay afloat. It's easy to begin to feel you've given enough, especially when the cost of everything seems to be going up. When there's another food drive at work or you have an opportunity to volunteer -- again, stay open to the idea of sharing. Your contributions are need now more than ever.
Start A Food Drive or School Breakfast Program
If you're a natural-born organizer, consider starting a food drive where you live, work or worship. Your local food bank will be able to give you suggestions on how to get started. From arranging for collection bins to getting fliers together, there are some details involved, but every business or community effort starts with one motivated individual.
If your child's school doesn't have a school breakfast program, you might be instrumental in starting one. The USDA publishes a School Breakfast Toolkit that helps parents, administrators and others tackle the task of adding an early morning meal to the school day. With some time and a little help, you can do great things.
HowStuffWorks finds out what a food forest is, how to create one, and how it helps to fight hunger.
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