More Americans than ever are experiencing food insecurity, meaning that on many days, they are unsure whether they will have enough to eat that day. Clearly, getting more food into hungry mouths is an urgent priority. But hunger is complex and multi-faceted, and there are many ways to support the hungry beyond simply donating food.
So you let’s say that you (or your congregation or campus ministry or service group) have donated food, or have volunteered at a food pantry or soup kitchen. Now what? Here are five things that food providers can do to expand beyond providing emergency services:
- Add fresh food to the menu by planting a row for the hungry or offering food coupons for buying fresh food at farmers’ markets. The problem this addresses is inadequate nutrition. Many low income people live in “food deserts” where fresh produce is often missing. Yet 80 million Americans garden. So follow the Garden Writers Association advice: plant an extra row this spring and donate the proceeds to a food bank or food pantry.
- Sponsor nutrition and cooking workshops. In addition to lack of availability of fresh food, poor nutrition is also a matter of education. Perhaps you know nutritionists or skilled cooks who could volunteer for a community workshop.
- Give referrals to free or low-cost health care and social service in your area. The West Side Campaign Against Hunger in NYC, for example, requires counseling before clients receive food, where information on Food Stamps, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and TANF (welfare) are provide
- Include patrons of your soup kitchen or food pantry as volunteers. One food pantry patron said, “After I came for a while, they asked me to serve as a volunteer, and I felt so much better about myself. It felt good.”
- Start community discussions on hunger, poverty, and food security. You can hold meetings in house of worship, schools, and community centers. Groups such as Bread for the World (www.bread.org) can provide resources for faith groups wanting to change public policy related to food.
Source: Going Beyond Emergency Food, produced by Why Hunger (www.whyhunger.org). Found at http://www.whyhunger.org/uploads/fileAssets/83eff7_2c1fb5.pdf
Photo: Tim Tanton, United Methodist News Service. Photo # 01-111, Accompanies UMNS #316, 7/18/01.