Hunger Is a Year-Round Concern and Stopping Food Waste Could Change That
Scrumptious, home-cooked meals are synonymous with the holidays. Millions of family members – related either by blood or choice – will be gathering in dining rooms, kitchens and dens for food and fellowship as they reflect on their blessings and look to the future. And millions won’t, because they already don’t have enough food to eat. Hunger is a real, on-going problem in the U.S.
Estimates are that 13.1 million children don’t know when they will eat their next meal. They are among the 42.2 million Americans who live in homes that that U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as “food-insecure,” meaning that they are uncertain whether they will be able to get healthy, nutrient-rich foods for their meals.
According to Feeding America, there are at least 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs trying to combat hunger and food insecurity. Some, such as churches, serve meals or distribute food items directly to people in need. Others, such as the DC Central Kitchen, work with organizations already on the frontlines of hunger and poverty.
“Unlike a traditional soup kitchen, no meals are served at DC Central Kitchen,” said Erica Teti-Zilinskas, the kitchen’s director of communications and marketing. “Instead, we use food as a tool to empower marginalized men and women to build lives of self-sufficiency.”
The DC Central Kitchen serves 5000 meals a day to more than 80 homeless shelters, halfway houses and rehabilitation clinics, according to Teti-Zilinskas. She said they also serve an additional 6,800 meals to 12 schools in the nation’s capital whose students live in low-income areas. It is impossible to separate hunger and food insecurity from poverty.
“We will never end hunger with food alone,” Teti-Zilinskas told Message. “Hunger is the symptom of the larger issue of poverty, which people in need experience 365 days a year.”
The number of Americans living in poverty only exceeds those in food insecure homes by one million. The Census Bureau estimates that 43.1 million lived in poverty in 2015, a decrease of 3.5 million from 2014. Perhaps this is because the median household income and earnings increased in 2015. While the poverty rate is trending in the right direction, the daily reality of food insecurity afflicting many Americans won’t be alleviated by tracking data trends.
Experts suggest that one way to reduce the number of hungry Americans is to stop wasting food. Food worth an estimated $165 billion is thrown away, annually. This much wasted food could feed 25 million people. Another way to fight hunger is to organize a food drive. Donations of beans, brown rice and canned goods always are needed. Finally, food banks, churches and other organizations such as the DC Central Kitchen are always looking for volunteers. People who want to help ease hunger pains should check in their communities to see who is working with impoverished families and individuals. And they should remember that feeding the hungry and helping people in poverty is a year-round effort. Opportunities to volunteer always are available.