Everyone sees the ads for starving children overseas. It’s heartbreaking. More tragic, perhaps, is the amount of hungry people that live in the United States, a country known for its wealth.
Consider this observation of a stranger in a pet food store observing a couple whose only fare consists of cheap cans of cat food:
A well-dressed elderly couple was in the pet food section of a grocery store arguing quietly about a small can of cat food.
I was waiting for them to move, when I heard the man say, “Well, I just thought you might want a change.”
They did not have a buggy, just a small basket. Their wealth was obviously on their backs, but not in their wallets. I was in such shock that I just walked past, and as I said, it has haunted me for years.
Why are there families without food in this modern day and age? The answer seems out of reach at times. But it doesn’t need to stay improbable.
Pamela Irvine, Executive Director of the Southwestern Virginia (SWVA) Second Harvest Food Bank, along with her staff and volunteers, are among the people worldwide whose purpose is a determination to get rid of hunger.
The Food Bank distributes almost 7.6 Million pounds of food annually. The need for this tremendous volume of food is apparent when the statistics speak.
The School of Social Work at Virginia Commonwealth University completed a study entitled: “LIVING ON THE EDGE: Virginia Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry Recipients, Fall 2001”. This study, conducted for all areas of Virginia served by Second Harvest Food Bank members, confirms that hunger and inadequate nutrition is increasing.
• 50% of respondents worked less than 40 hours per week.
• 50% earned $6.50 or less per hour.
• Among respondents worried whether their food would run out before they got money to buy more: 48% sometimes; 40% often.
• Among respondents where the food did not last and didn’t have money to buy more: 47% sometimes; 39% often.
• Respondents that couldn’t afford to eat balanced meals: 46% sometimes; 27% often.
• Respondents that had to cut the size of meals or skip meals because of no money: 57% some months; 33% every month.
• Respondents that didn’t eat for an entire day because there wasn’t enough money for food: 67% some months; 27% every month.
• 55% of respondents use a food pantry more than once a month.
• 48% of respondents use a food pantry as a regular source of food.
Irvine notes that the incidence of childhood hunger continues to persist in southwest Virginia. The LIVING ON THE EDGE study also discovered these statistics on Virginia children suffering from hunger and inadequate nutrition.
• 41% of households have children less than 18 years old.
• Average age of youngest child is 6.5.
• Among households that relied on only a few kinds of low-cost food to feed their children 39% often, 44% sometimes.
• Among households that couldn’t feed their children a balanced meal: 17% often, 44% sometimes.
• Among households whose children were not eating enough, because they could not afford enough food: 7% often, 37% sometimes.
• Among households where children had to skip a meal, because there wasn’t enough money for food: 67% some months, 33% one or two months.
• 21% of households had to cut the size of the kids’ meals, because there was not enough money for food.
• 21% of households stated their children were hungry but they could not afford more food.
• 34% of households rely on the free/reduced price school lunch and breakfast programs.
One of the ways the Food Bank meets the needs of hungry children is through afterschool and evening programs that provide food and snacks for the children. Kids Café is a trademark program started through America’s Second Harvest Food Bank Network. Some cafes are at Boys and Girls Clubs, West End Center and the Salvation Army. Cafes are located throughout 26 counties in Virginia.
Communities, schools and clubs interested in having their own Kid’s Café should make contact with one of the branch offices listed at the end of the article.
Individuals in Need
Individuals in need of assistance are encouraged to contact their community churches or Salvation Army. Those organizations will have the information or food supplies needed to help individuals and family. The Food Bank distributes food to these non-profits as well as soup kitchens, homeless shelters and food pantries.
A Harvest Soup Kitchen is in service in Abingdon, which provides hot meals to go three times a week.
Churches and other non-profit groups can contact one of the branch offices listed above for a membership application. Once the application is completed and approved, a method of providing and distributing food to hungry families can proceed.
Volunteers are the life-blood of the Food Bank. Additional volunteers are needed to:
• Process food donations
• Assist with the pick up, distribution and delivery of our product
• Work as a Director of First Impressions in the food bank lobby, greet important by telephone and in person
• Conduct food drives and special events
Breadwinners are a special group of volunteers whose purpose is to go into the community and tell the Food Bank story in order to generate contributions.
Businesses Can Help
Businesses can help the Food Bank in a variety of ways, through making financial or food contributions, which are tax deductible. Organizations can conduct food drives for holidays or other special occasions. Within a corporation, volunteer programs to meet any one or a number of needs are encouraged.
The Food Bank also has speakers available to give a presentation on the needs of and services of the Southwest Virginia Food Bank.
Hunger during the Holidays
The Food Bank distributes more food during the holiday season than any other time, due to special basket programs. The Food Bank’s vision is that no one shall go hungry or suffer from lack of a nutritious food supply in Southwestern Virginia. Food should not be on a child's wish list, or anybody else’s for Christmas.
Director Irvine’s prayer this holiday season is that every person will have enough food to eat, the individuals in the communities we serve will "acknowledge Him with all of their hearts, lean not to their own understanding that He might direct their paths". That those that have lost their jobs would find better ones, those that are ill will find healing in Jesus.
Irvine became personally involved in the business of feeding the hungry in the early 80’s through her association with Total Action Against Poverty (TAP). The SHFB was established in May of 1981 by TAP and became an independent non-profit in July 1999.
Hunger and a lack of nutritional food supply was an issue for the low income, elderly and children serviced by TAP. The Community Food and Nutrition Program of TAP attended a meeting in Norfolk to learn more about the possibility of starting a Food Bank in Roanoke, VA.
The Roanoke Branch and Main Distribution for Southwestern Virginia started in May 1981. The Alleghany Highlands Branch opened in December 1981, and the Appalachian Branch opened in 1988.
A capital campaign will begin in December 2004 to cover the costs of the SWVA Food Bank’s new building. Director Irvine thanks God for the miracle of the new space. She states that the Food Bank took a step in faith and moved into the new structure, trusting God, who had provided the perfect space to fit the bank’s growing needs, to provide the means to pay for it as well.
How to Help Now
Irvine prays God will bless the Food Bank agencies, staff, volunteers, contributors and board of directors and they will have adequate food and funding to meet the increase in demand of their food distribution network.
SWVA Second Harvest Food Bank believes there is enough food in this country to feed the ill, elderly, children or disadvantaged. Second Harvest also believes there is enough food in this country to feed the ill, elderly, children or disadvantaged and that their job is to identify, collect and channel that food thru their member programs.
The 300-member programs feed an average of 45,000 to 65,000 individuals every month.
Donations of food and money are always acceptable and can be made through the mail, on the internet, or through any of the regional offices.
Nationwide, donations of just $1.00 made through www.secondharvest.org can provide up to four bags of groceries for a family.
A trip to Washington, D.C., is planned for June, where America’s Second Harvest, a faith-based committee, will join with other agencies and leaders in the nation and its communities to address the issues of hunger. A prayer service is scheduled at the National Cathedral during the trip.
Bravo, Dian. Another example of your commitment to serve the needy, this time by making people aware of facts about who, what, where, and how...Great info here that would serve every state in our country and every country in the world. It is deplorable that a nation as wealthy as ours should have statistics like the ones provided in your piece. We have a program through our church that takes place the 2nd Friday of every month to feed the homeless in the town in which I live, Tacoma, Washington. There are other churches and organizations who privately participate in projects similar to this one, and of course the major supplier of both food and a place to sleep and receive warm clothing, etc., is at the Mission sites. The Kid's Cafe sounds like a marvelous response for this area of need. Another area or group of those who suffer from hunger is the elderly. There are senior centers that provide food on a weekly but not daily basis supplied by local grocery stores (under the table) but the demand must be greater than we know or than there is places to help. Keep up the good reporting and nudging us all to serve in this endeavor. Yours in Christ, ladybug Karen
Thank you, Dian, for the reminder to us all, especially during this Christmas season, that the call to feed the poor may be a whisper, but the reality of hunger is a loud cry. It's much more of a problem than people fathom. I recall a time, only a few years ago, when I'd said to a neighbor "I'm sure sick of peanut butter sandwiches." No sooner did the sentence drop from the end of my tongue, someone on her television made the statement "Try grilled-cheese." Seems like a coicedence, but I didn't have the money to get throught the next month on decent meals either. So the last week before payday? Grilled-cheese! Yes ma'am, hunger is much more common than people realize.