One of the most formative memories of my junior high days was when my confirmation class spent a day working in the local food bank. First we sorted through massive boxes of donated foodstuffs and put them into bins of like items, carefully checking each can or box for an expiration date; then we were given a “pick list” and filled brown paper bags with a list of staples that was supposed to feed a family for a week — a list that was slim by comparison to what we ate at home, but that was carefully chosen to pack the most nutrition and bulk into the least expensive and perishable options possible. It was the most effective way to teach young teens growing up in a insulated suburb a lesson in the starkness of not being able to make ends meet.
Touring the Capital Area Food Bank today, much of the warehouse’s operations looked very similar. And yet a few twists. Of the 27 million pounds of food distributed last year, 10.8 million of it was fresh produce. And although staff at the food bank acknowledge that often times donated food is not the healthiest, they spend the dollars donated to purchase healthy items and also have advocacy programs to provide children, families and seniors with tools and resources to live a healthier lifestyle. For example a Kids Cafe program partners with after school programs to provide healthy after school snacks and dinners for kids, modeling what kinds of things they should eat at home.
Although I was aware of Capital Area Food Bank’s existence, I was brought there today by the ConAgra Foods Child Hunger Ends Here Campaign. Through my volunteer work, I was already acutely aware that children are often the most affected by poverty. Even in the area where I live — Fairfax and Loudoun Counties in Virginia, two of the wealthier counties in our nation — at least 10% of the population fall below the poverty line and the majority of those are children. According to ConAgra Foods, 17.2 million children in the United States don’t get enough food to live active, healthy lives. One in four kids. 2006-2008 U.S. Census figures show that in DC, 1 in 2 children under 18 is at risk of hunger and in Northern Virginia, the figure is 1 in 6 children. That’s why ConAgra Foods has launched the Child Hunger Ends Here program. They have four specific advocacy actions they are asking you to consider taking:
- Go Grocery Shopping:Through May 2011, if you purchase specially-marked ConAgra Foods brands and enter the 8-digit purchase code online at www.childhungerendshere.com, the company will donate one meal to America, up to 2.5 million meals. Participating brands include: Banquet, Chef Boyardee, Healthy Choice, Fresh Mixers, Kid Cuisine, Marie Callendar’s and Peter Pan. Products should be purchased through May, but codes may be redeemed through August 2011.
- Text to Donate: Text “FEEDKIDS” to 50555 to make a $10 donation directly to Feeding America through June 30, 2011. (Note– this has been edited to fix the “missing 5!”
- Spread the Word on Twitter: You can follow them on Twitter @ConAgraFoods and you can post about the issue with the tag #childhungerendshere
- Share Your Story on Facebook: See the stories of those you benefit at www.facebook.com/ConAgraFoods. Every time you share a story on your Facebook page through August 31, 2011, ConAgra Foods will help Feeding America secure an additional meal, up to 100,000 meals.
These are quick, easy things to do that barely break your every day routine, but I would like to challenge you to do even more. I suspect that if you read my blog, you are similar to me, and you participate in one or more canned food drives annually. I would like to challenge you to take it a step further. We often think of “the hungry” as homeless people living on the streets, and while that is a part of the population who are hungry, the majority of the clients of food pantries are actually what are called “the working poor.” People who are working, but whose dollars aren’t stretching to cover all the costs — in fact, 56% of hosueholds served by Capital Area Food Bank have at least one working adult. Often, these families have children who are coming to school hungry and who are often hungrier over the weekends because they can’t take advantage of breakfast and lunch programs offered at school.
Capital Area Food Bank is a large warehouse clearing house for food contributions that provides food for many of the programs in our local communities, what are known as food pantries, the organizations that directly give food to families. In the summer months, they receive fewer donations as people tend to conduct food drives in the winter and around the holidays.
And yet, the need is often greater in the summer time — think of all those kids who are now not in school, not taking advantage of free and reduced lunch programs.
Will you consider volunteering in your local food pantry, or at Capital Area Foods to get a better understanding of the need? Or better yet, working with a group of friends or an organization, conducting a food drive and bringing down the items and volunteering? All of these organizations rely heavily on volunteers — Capital Area Food Bank serves over 478,100 people a year and couldn’t do it without the help of 14,000 volunteers — the equivalent of $1.7 million if they had to use paid staff. You can find a list of their partner agencies on their web site. Not listed on their web site, but a local food pantry I am partial to is Western Fairfax Christian Ministries.
Capital Area Food Bank offers tours from 11:30 am – 12:30 pm on the following dates or you may contact them to schedule a private tour by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org:
- May 12
- June 9
- July 14
- August 11
- September 8
- October 13
If you take me up on my challenge or do any of the ConAgra Foods advocacy items, please post here, I’d love to hear about it. If you start a food drive, post the details so I can help you get the word out!