Very often we think about our impact on the world at large. Not recycling or composting. Not re-using bags or buying water in a plastic bottle. Today I want you to consider the impact you make in your own neighborhood.
Everyday you meet people just like yourself who are going about their day. Going to work, to school. But one thing separates you from them, food insecurity. One in five children in the whole of the United States is considered food insecure. That's approximately 17,000,000 children who have one meal or less per day. The World Health Organization defines food security as having four facets: food availability, food access, food use, and long term stability. Food availability is having available sufficient quantities of food on a consistent basis. Food access is having sufficient resources, both economic and physical, to obtain appropriate foods for a nutritious diet. Food use is the appropriate use based on knowledge of basic nutrition and care, as well as adequate water and sanitation. The stability of the first three dimensions of food security over time is most critical of all.
Could you imagine going the whole day with nothing but what you might eat at school. That's if your school participates. Unfortunately, besides extracurricular activities, school food programs that include free or reduced meals are often the first cut when district budgets are short. Lunch programs during the summer months are scarce (more so for adults), run only during certain hours and/or on certain days, you can only eat the meal right where you receive it in front of the person handing it out, and you may not take it with you or share it. It is usually highly processed and high in sugar, filled with preservatives, artificial flavors, and colors. You are required to be grateful and you may never ask if there are other options. If you are a vegetarian or have an allergy, you eat considerably less of what is offered, if at all.
In Buffalo there are a number of programs run by groups who attempt to meet the daily needs of the hungry. From Loaves & Fishes' bagged lunches at their temporary St. John location, to Buffalo Food Not Bombs Monday and Saturday's Lunches, to Central City Cafe's wholesome hot meals; they and other outstanding food providers work hard for little or no pay.
They too have issues with budgets but even more than that, there is a need for donations beyond the major holidays, as well as providing services in a facility that has an up to code kitchen, a clean and safe dinning area, and having volunteers on staff that have the experience to work across the gamut of needs.
One small way that you could help is to donate goods to a pantry or soup kitchen. Consider locally sourced and/or organic foodstuffs such as rice, beans, whole wheat pastas, fresh fruits and vegetables. So often donations consist of foods you yourself wouldn't eat. How often have you cleared out your cupboard of items nearing expiration and donated them? You didn't eat that cranberry sauce, why would you donate it? Think instead, "I am so hungry! I wish I could have a hot meal with...." When you stop to consider what actually happens to those cans and boxes, you start to alter the types of foods you donate. Cans that have pull tabs are easier than hoping the client has a can opener or a stove to heat it on. Items that can be heated in a microwave or added to a stew pot are highly desired. I frequently hear how nice it is when a pantry adds a head of lettuce, a bag of potatoes, or a bar of butter. There is also something special about having a bar of soap, a roll of toilet paper, or a tube of toothpaste added to the bag.
This month consider, at least once a week donating two or three items that you would never have thought of donating before. If you are uncertain of where to donate, take a look at the 20 Soup Kitchens located here in Erie County. Also be aware that money donations are welcome at the smaller pantries where they are often used to purchase things like school supplies, or body care products like tooth brushes or feminine products, or food for pets.
I'll be featuring a different kitchen or pantry once a month, so check back in the middle of the month for more information on ways you can help in your community.
Thank you and have a great week!