Want to serve the hungry this holiday season? Over the holidays, a lot of us have the urge to help those less fortunate. We sign up to serve a holiday meal at the soup kitchen, or we donate to a workplace drive to provide meal baskets with all the trimmings.
For some it stems from a desire to share their good fortune. Others wish to teach their children lessons in compassion and service, and see this as a good time to do so. These are admirable wishes and I commend everyone who helps in these ways.
But hunger is not a holiday phenomenon. Hunger is present all year. And hunger is not a photo-op. None of us wants to be like this guy
or this guy, both "volunteering" more for show than because of a generous heart.
How much of a problem is hunger in America? In 2011 low food security impacted almost one in six Americans. According to the US Department of Agriculture,
An estimated 85.1 percent of American households were food secure throughout the entire year in 2011, meaning that they had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. The remaining households (14.9 percent) were food insecure at least some time during the year, including 5.7 percent with very low food security—meaning that the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food.[The USDA uses the term "food insecurity" instead of "hunger" to improve the measurability and objectiveness of the measure. Regardless of term, too many people in the U.S. have trouble feeding themselves and/or someone in their household, due to lack of money or other resources.]
So How Can You Help?
Nationally there are a lot of organizations working to end hunger, at least for today. Many of them may work in your community. Soup kitchens, food pantries, Meals on Wheels, and food rescue organizations all provide opportunities for volunteers year round!
Soup kitchens/free food lines. These groups need help every day they serve. In my community, a hearty lunch is served six days a week. Clients can come back for seconds, and if there are leftovers, they can carry them out, as well.
What kind of help is needed? Check with your local group. On a daily basis food must be prepped and served; dishes and work space must be cleaned. If you want client-facing duty, you probably can do that. Last time Jim and I helped I was in a grumpy mood and chose cleaning duty instead. My mood was much brighter by the time we were through.
Besides daily duty, your group may need organizational help, writing grant proposals, scheduling volunteers, or other administrative services.
Food pantries/food banks. Here again, hundreds of volunteer hours are needed to make these work. The food pantries in our area all belong to a larger network. Though they have common sources of food, they staff independently with volunteers. Again, client-facing people are needed as well as those to write grant proposals, pick up and deliver food, clean the facility, etc.
Meal on Wheels. As of a year ago, my local Meals on Wheels group had almost 200 clients to whom they delivered food regularly. Imagine how many volunteers are needed to prepare, pick up, and deliver these meals. Volunteers often develop personal relationships with clients, and they can be on the front lines for noticing when circumstances for someone have deteriorated.
Find out how you can help from the Meals on Wheels volunteer webpage. You can get a taste of it here:
Food rescue, also called food recovery, is the practice of safely retrieving edible food that would otherwise go to waste, and distributing it to those in need.In my community, a group called Table to Table moves edible food from restaurants, coffee shops, groceries, drug stores, and institutional kitchens to recipient agencies. Those agencies are the same food pantries, free lunch lines, and Meals on Wheels-type organizations mentioned above. This is an essential link in the chain that helps feed the hungry.
The recovered food is edible, but often not saleable. Products that are at or past their “sell by” dates or are imperfect in any way – a bruised apple or day-old bread – are donated by grocery stores, food vendors, restaurants, and farmers markets. Other times, the food is unblemished, but restaurants may have made or ordered too much, or may have edible pieces of food (such as scraps of fish or meat) that are byproducts of process of preparing foods to cook and serve. In addition, food manufacturers may donate product that marginally fails quality control or that has become short-dated.
Find Out More
To find out more about hunger in America and how you can help, visit feedingamerica.org.