How long has it been since your last meal? Hours? Minutes? If your belly (and refrigerator) is full, you’re better off than approximately 870 million people around the world.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, nearly one in eight people suffer from chronic undernourishment. Many of these people live far away in developing countries, but you’d be surprised how many exist right in your own neighborhood–most of them children who have no control over the situation.
It’s no secret that the last few years have been rough economically. Many families are still feeling after-effects of the recession in the form of un- (or under-) employment, or overdue mortgages and medical bills. Every day moms and dads make tough decisions about whether to put food on the table or keep a roof over their family’s heads.
In times like these, food banks become an integral part of the community support system. Unfortunately, few are set up to deal with the sustained demand of recent times.
“People come to us, saying they have a job but don’t have enough to pay for food,” John McKay, who runs a food bank in the UK, told The Brentwood Weekly News. “Most are on minimum wage, or zero-hours contracts,” he continued, saying the food bank is struggling to handle a four-fold increase in demand.
Food banks in the U.S. are in a similar situation, made worse by the late 2013 decision to reduce SNAP benefits for 47 million people. “We are hearing story after story about how a family was just making ends meet on what they received in food stamps prior to the cut. Now, even the smallest cut is forcing them to come to the Foodbank for help,” Marianne Smith Vargas, chief philanthropy officer at Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia, told NBC News at the time.
This crisis is happening silently, out of the public eye, leaving the dedicated volunteers who run local food banks frustrated and tired.
So, if you’re blessed with a full tummy and the financial means to keep it that way, now is the time for action.
5 Ways to Support Your Local Food Bank
1. Give Food – Contact your local food bank and ask what their most pressing needs are. Then add a few of those items to your grocery store or farmers’ market list. Most pantries will always accept extra nonperishable items like canned foods, dried pastas, peanut butter, cereal and baby food at any time.
2. Grow Food – Around the United States, gardeners are being encouraged to “plant an extra row” for food banks. Participants often receive a free pack of seeds and help connecting with their closest food shelf, though each regional program is different. To find out more, Google “Plant a row + (Your city or state).”
3. Collect Food – The only thing better than one family donating to their local food bank is dozens of families. Organizing a community food drive is easier than you think, and can make a big impact for low-income families in your neighborhood. Feeding America has lots of great advice about how to organize grocery store food drives.
4. Donate Money – When donations don’t keep up with demand, many food banks are forced to buy supplies. If you’re able, monetary donations often deliver the biggest benefit, because they can be utilized at any time. Ask your local food bank the best way to make a financial contribution, or use this tool to organize a virtual food drive fundraiser.
5. Volunteer Time – If you’re working on a tight budget, or don’t have a garden, the above options might not be possible. However, many food banks are desperate for volunteers to help them sort and shelve donations, create food boxes, make pick-ups and deliveries, and cook meals. Volunteering your time at a food bank is a great way to be of service to fellow humans and connect with your community.
Ready to get started? The first step is to find your local food bank. The resources below can help:
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