Many of us are fortunate enough to have enough food to feed our families. But food insecurity is a huge problem in the United States.
Here are some facts:
-In the U.S., 1 in 6 struggles with food insecurity
-16 million American kids are food insecure - a higher percentage of households with food insecurity have kids
-hunger/food insecurity is an issue in every U.S. county
-54% of those helped through Feeding America (it has a network of 200+ food banks and other programs to help those who need food) have worked in the last year.
Have you tried to make it through an afternoon meeting when you're hungry? How do your children behave when they need to eat? Imagine going through this daily. As parents, we have an opportunity to help our children see the impact of hunger on those around them, and to get them in the mindset of helping others.
Here are some ways that my family helps to combat hunger in the U.S.
-When we go grocery shopping, there are often bins at the entrance to collect food for the food bank. I have my kids pick out a few items each shopping trip to put in there (we talk about what kind of food is best).
-When my kids were in preschool, we had "no gift" parties and instead asked for food donations. While some parents told me this was mean to my kids, we talked to the kids beforehand to explain why we were doing this, and that it's important to share with others during our special occasions. My kids were good with that, while ironically, some parents weren't! And it's not like our kids got no presents from family members.
-We participate each year in the Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive sponsored by the postal service, and our local Scouting for Food drive.
-During the Jewish High Holidays, many synagogues hold a food drive on Yom Kippur. This is the day we fast to atone for our sins and concentrate on the spiritual, not the physical. Okay, putting aside that it's hard to think about the spiritual when you're hungry, it IS a great teaching opportunity for the kids. We bring a bag of food to donate to the food drive as the holiday begins.
-At big holidays, we do some double food shopping when we are buying for our holiday meals to donate (extra packages of stuffing, yams, pumpkin pie mix, green beans). Some stores give out turkeys or hams if you spend enough money at the store. As we often celebrate Thanksgiving at someone else's house, we donate the freebie to a holiday food drive. This past year, someone on one of my community email lists requested a turkey for their holiday dinner, as the spouse lost a job but they still wanted to host dinner. I was surprised when I responded a few days later that no one else had offered them one. When they came to pick it up they were so grateful, and I felt blessed to be able to help someone. I hadn't told my kids what I was doing, but they were there when the person came, and I later told them why. I think this act of sharing had a big impact on them.
-Our schools collect extra lunches every week, to donate to an after-school center that has services for underprivileged kids. Often these kids don't get much food at home, and the extra meal often serves as dinner. I involve my kids in packing the lunch and talking to them about where it's going, and they drop off the meals in the right spot at school. I used to do the bag delivery once every few months and could share with my kids what I saw there, and would request help from a few kids in packing the lunches into my car, so they physically saw it leaving the school to be delivered.
-Deliver food to the food bank yourself. Find out when the delivery hours are, and whether you can volunteer. Many food banks have volunteer slots for families, like at Second Harvest in San Mateo. My daughter's Girl Scout troop brought their Gift of Caring cookies to a food bank, and the person on duty was so excited, telling the girls how much the recipients loved getting Girl Scout cookies. That made them feel really good.
-Kids can collect change to donate as well. I always put spare change I find on the street in a container to donate, as the money wasn't mine to begin with.
There are a ton of ways to help your kids understand the problems with hunger in an accessible way to them. Feeding America has a toolkit with some coloring pages and ideas you can check out.
This post is sponsored by Feeding America. I will be donating my compensation to my local food bank.