Given that last month was Hunger Awareness Week in Canada and that it’s Hunger Awareness Month in the U.S. this month, it seems like a good time to talk about hunger in North America and what ordinary folks like you and me can do about it.
Hunger is a major public health concern throughout North America where nearly 1 in 7 individuals are impacted by it. It’s especially crushing to the most vulnerable among us, children and seniors, and that’s the true heartache. Recent studies have determined that children who are denied an adequate diet are at a greater risk of not reaching their full potential as teens and adults.
At the other end of the spectrum, the health and nutritional wellness of seniors can be greatly compromised when there’s not enough food to eat – and it’s considerably more difficult for seniors to protect themselves from food insecurity and hunger than it is for the general population. Sadly, studies have also projected an increase in food insecurity in the future among both of these groups.
The bottom line is this is not a situation with an easy fix, and it’s often frustrating for the average person who wants to help to know what to do in the face of such an enormous problem. While we might not be able to do a great deal on the large scale, there are manageable ways that we can all do our part to help in our communities. Here are a few suggestions for addressing hunger locally:
Donate to a food bank. Food banks are struggling to keep up with feeding those in need, even as donations increase because of growing awareness. If you can, donate to local food drives. And, when donating, know which foods are the most nourishing and non-perishable. Food banks particularly appreciate foods like canned tuna, salmon, chicken and beef, peanut butter, and canned fruits and vegetables that contain no added salt or sugar.
Go a step further and volunteer at a food bank or food pantry. In addition to helping sort and stock food at your local food bank or pantry, as a volunteer you can help run food drives or even start a community table at your local farmers market to let your neighbors donate their produce surplus. Whatever time and effort you can give will make a difference.
Share the Love. We all agree that potlucks are amazing, right? Everyone brings more than enough food and goes home with a full belly in addition to a plate filled with a mix of delights. A great way to help your community is to pool the food that everyone would normally take home and instead take it to the homeless at a nearby shelter. For even more of an impact, invite someone you know who is food-insecure or hungry to your potluck and send them home with a ton of healthy food.
Start a community garden. Invite your friends and fellow members to join you in cultivating a garden bed in your community, and donate the vegetables you grow to your local food bank or pantry to be consumed directly. If you’re already an annual gardener, consider donating your surplus produce to your local food bank or pantry. Every vegetable counts.
Stand Up for Imperfect Produce. Between the farm and the plate, so much food is wasted because of imperfections. Thankfully this is beginning to change as some grocers and restaurants are partnering with farms and distributors to accept this perfectly edible produce. You can do your part by encouraging your local food businesses to work with this produce and sell it at a discounted price to those in need.
The first step in making a difference is reaching out. Nearly every community has a food bank, food pantry, or food assistance program. Send them an email or give them a call today to find out what you can do to make life a little better for your neighbors. Hunger is a huge issue, but helping the hungry doesn’t have to be an impossible task.