By Terry Tedeschi
Abundance, especially of late, is not a word we often hear. It is, to be sure, a feeling defined differently by each of us. For many it brings a sense of warmth and security; for others it is a reminder of what their life is lacking, in spirit or in the basic necessities of life. Definitions of abundance include:
• Fullness to overflowing
• Sufficient in life’s necessities
• Ample quantity
A person may be abundant in spirit, experiencing “fullness to overflowing”, but lacking in the most basic needs, such as food and shelter. We are entering the Thanksgiving and holiday seasons, a time most associated with abundance and joy. However, in the world of our nation’s food assistance organizations, staff and volunteers meet people daily who clearly are not “sufficient in life’s necessities.”
Indeed, people living in poverty—most of which are families with at least one working adult—will choose to put a roof over their family’s head, pay for heat, and pay for medical care over food. People can choose to spend less on food, but what landlord will accept less than the rent due?
Even in the very challenging economic times we are living in, America is still a land of abundance. Yet hunger and food insecurity are also an ever-increasing reality. It’s easy to create a picture in our minds of what a hungry person looks like, such as the homeless person standing at an intersection asking for money.
The truth is that people who are living with food insecurity or hunger are folks we see and interact with everyday. They are largely invisible to us because the majority of those living at or below the poverty line are working people—hardworking, often carrying more than one job, struggling daily to make ends meet, and who provide many of the services we take for granted. They are the backbone of our economy, essential to our quality of life, and they add to the rich fabric that is America. So, we see them, but yet we don’t really see them.
But what our eyes do not show us our national and local statistics do. One out of every 8 Americans faces hunger every day and those in need consistently choose to pay for shelter, heat, and medical expenses over food; parents go without or eat less so their children have enough.
Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger relief organization, is made up of 200 food banks serving urban, suburban, and rural areas that struggle to alleviate hunger daily. The Feeding America website, www.feedingamerica.org, offers a “Hunger 101” true or false quiz” about who lives with hunger in our land of plenty; here are some of the facts you will learn:
• According to the USDA, more than 12 million children are living in food insecure households. School lunch programs and food stamps do help, but they do not solve the problem.
• Children from food-insecure, low-income households are more likely to experience irritability, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating compared to other children, making performing in school very difficult.
• Counties with disproportionately high rates of persistent poverty are often rural, where it can be more difficult for food banks and food emergency assistance to support them.
A Local Example – Community Food Share
For many, statistics do not paint a clear enough picture of what one cannot relate to or imagine—hunger in their community. Community Food Share is a Feeding America affiliate food bank that has been serving Boulder and Broomfield Counties, Colorado for 28 years. This area of Colorado is a fairly affluent, well educated suburban community. Despite this, approximately 50,000 people, 15% of the population, live at or below 130% of the federal poverty level, or $27,500 per year for a family of four. This level of poverty is also used as the eligibility criteria for the Food Stamp and Federal School Lunch programs.
Where does the food come from? Clearly, there is no shortage of food in America; rather, there is a logistics problem of getting food from where it is grown or produced to where it is needed. Eighty-five percent of the food Community Food Share procures comes from donated sources. These include: National and regional loads of fresh produce procured through Feeding America; national store donation programs sponsored by Feeding America, such as with Walmart; local food manufacturers, such as WhiteWave Foods; grocery stores; farmers; and community food drives and gardens.
While the product is free, Community Food Share pays approximately $4,500 per semi truckload in transportation costs. The balance of the food acquired comes from purchase on the wholesale market, to supplement inventory. Community Food Share, like many Feeding America food banks, nutritionally tracks food collection and distribution to targets in the Food Guide Pyramid.
How is the food distributed? As with most of Feeding America food banks, the majority of food is distributed through other non-profit service agencies that provide food assistance, such as emergency food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters. Community Food Share works with a network of 58 human service agencies in the community and also distributes food through several Direct Service programs targeting at-risk populations, such as families with children on the Federal School Lunch program. All food is distributed free of charge.
Community Food Share’s growth over the years has been significant. Ten years ago, when their new facility first opened with an 18,000 sq. ft. warehouse, 1.4 million meals were distributed. This year, over 6.4 million meals will be distributed. Our staff are often asked if this growth indicates the same magnitude of increase in need. The answer is—only partially. In fact, there has never been enough food available to those living with food insecurity or hunger. Along with its agencies, Community Food Share has been playing a game of catch up, which is made all that much harder by the affects of the recession on our most vulnerable population.
What can you do to help?
There are many ways to help those in need of food assistance in your community. First of all, and perhaps most importantly, become aware of those in need around you because before individuals can be moved to action they must first be aware of the problem. More often than not you will come to understand that people living with food insecurity and hunger are people like you, your neighbors, struggling to be productive citizens and raise healthy families. The face of hunger in your community may surprise you.
Then translate your awareness into action. Find your local Feeding America food bank or human service agencies that serve those in need of food assistance. You will find that these organizations together serve as a community “safety net” for those unsure of where there next meal will come from or how they will feed their children. Then, support them with dollars, volunteer time, and food—all of which significantly help in their efforts to create a food secure community. Because of their size, food banks can greatly leverage a donor’s dollar, for example, Feeding American can distribute 9 meals for every dollar donated.
In many ways, it’s all very simple, and grassroots efforts make the difference. Community Food Share has a saying, “A little giving goes a long way.” The size of a gift is not as important as the act of giving.
Even more to the point, we are reminded of Margaret Mead’s time-honored admonition to us as a community: “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Over time, the constant stress of living in poverty and hunger can destroy feelings of spiritual abundance, no matter how strong the human spirit. We can support the spirit of those without abundance by giving to the local food banks in our communities.
Terry Tedeschi has been the Development and Marketing Director for Community Food Share in Boulder, Colorado since 1999. Prior to that she was a Practice Administrator for five cancer treatment clinics of Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers. Other fundraising experience includes the University of Colorado Foundation and National Jewish Health Center in Denver. Ms. Tedeschi has an MA in European History and is an avid student of the Civil War. Volunteer efforts outside of Community Food Share include the Mental Health Center Serving Boulder and Broomfield Counties, Colorado.