Childhood Hunger and Six Things You Can Do About It

A family member told me a story that I can’t shake. It’s about two hungry little boys who scavenge the church kitchen after hospitality hour for leftover cookies and cakes. One has an unhealed wound and the other isn’t too proud to finish the half-eaten pastries that still bear the bite marks of another. While they wait for their ride home in the church’s van, they stuff their pockets full of leftovers and then wave goodbye to their Sunday School teachers who send them home with a freshly glued craft and some canned goods from the pantry.

Those meager crumbs might be the only food they’ll eat until they go to school on Monday, when, as another friend told me, a teacher or principal will open a desk drawer she keeps stocked–not with extra school supplies, but with cereal, granola bars, and applesauce. One teacher said that she doesn’t have the room in her budget to buy the learning resources that would benefit her students because it has already been used on feeding many of them. When kids are hungry, priorities get shuffled.

Today I went to the supermarket, a chore I admittedly detest (it comes just before ironing on my list of life’s least-enjoyable tasks). I strolled the aisles filling my cart to the brim with nutritious food to feed my family for the week. But after hearing first-hand stories of hungry children, I no longer look at the task the same way. I wonder if the others around me are far more stressed about how to stretch their dollars to feed themselves and their families than I am about finding a parking spot.

A few months ago, I entered the supermarket at the same time as another woman who carried a heavy bag of bottles which she returned for change. I took notice when, as I was getting a coffee at the Starbucks counter around the corner, she put the coins in a machine that noisily accepted them before coughing out cash that she placed in a tattered envelope and tucked carefully in her pocket. When I was checking out, she was in front of me. This time I saw her counting the bills in the envelope to pay for the groceries in her cart.

It’s unfair for me to profile this woman because the truth is I do not know her story. But it’s shameful for me to ignore the very real possibility that she is among my many neighbors who struggle to put food on the table. Stories like these abound; the tale of the hungry little boys and the lament of teachers whose resources are stretched thin because of it, are all too common in this country. Like you, I’ve heard versions of them before but most often from a comfortable distance. They have compelled me to participate in canned food drives and to volunteer at the community meal center. But the scourge of hunger in our society is so overwhelming that it’s easy to become paralyzed in its wake. I end up doing nothing, or worse–I’m lulled into complacency.

Today I decided to be proactive about hunger. The only way I can change the arc of this story is by writing a new ending. I created a list of ways that I can do that by combatting hunger, and I share them here, hoping that they might inspire you too.

  1. Set a weekly food budget, and then challenge yourself to spend below that amount by using coupons, buying store brands, and/or forgoing one item from your list each week. Keep track of what you don’t spend and donate it to a local organization that addresses hunger in your area (i.e., food pantry, nonprofit, religious organization, meal center, etc..). Or, choose a national or international organization to support like Save the Children , Feeding America, or UNICEF.
  2. Double a recipe you plan to make for dinner one night this week and take it to a senior citizen (hunger affects all ages, particularly those who are most vulnerable–children and seniors). Contact the senior center to see who would like a meal and arrange a drop-off. Or, call your place of worship and ask about any shut-ins who might enjoy a meal and some company.
  3. Check in with your local schools to find out if hunger is a problem. If so, ask how you might help. Do they need donations of nutritious breakfast foods for children before school, or snacks for afterschool care? As always, be cognizant of food restrictions like allergies. Many schools are peanut-free.
  4. Plant an extra row in your garden designated for the food pantry. Donate the fresh produce. Or, consider becoming involved (or starting) a garden program at a local school. There are numerous benefits to teaching students to cultivate a garden. Check out REAL School Gardens as a good start.
  5. Consider organizing and hosting a children’s event and meal over the weekend to bridge the gap between the school weeks. It would take careful planning, but it could work and the creative possibilities are endless.
  6. Last but not least, educate yourself on hunger by getting familiar with the root causes and statistics. Then volunteer your time serving the food pantry or meal center, use your voice to advocate for an end to hunger, or host a food drive. Or, start your own nonprofit to eradicate hunger in our communities!

What is missing from this list? How can we use our creativity to find solutions to end hunger?

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith, but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and eat your daily needs,” what is the good of that?  So faith, by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)