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Hunger Hits Home

Tonight I watched a program on the Food Network called “Hunger Hits Home,” a special on childhood hunger in the United States. It was a very moving program and I found myself tearing up at many points.

I have never been hungry. And what I mean is I have never gone without food because my family could not afford it. Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have fresh, healthy food cooked every night by my mom, and I never had to go to school with an empty stomach.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case for many of the country’s children. According to the show, one in five children in the United States does not know where his or her next meal will come from, and as the economy continues to worsen, the number of children who are hungry will increase.

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I write a lot about food in this blog, and how everyone should eat local, organic fruits and vegetables and grass-fed, free range, organic local meat because it’s better for the environment and the local economy. I also talk a lot the standards my food has to meet in order for me to eat it, and quite frankly, sometimes I feel like a bit of a jerk. My biggest food worry is whether or not the chicken wings I ate last night were local, and here there are, millions of hungry children (and adults) who would gladly eat those wings, regardless of what state they came from.

That’s not to say I shouldn’t have standards for the food I eat. I am fortunate enough that I am financially able to choose what foods I eat, and I should take advantage of that. But the reality is, there is not a single community in the country that is hunger-free, meaning there are a lot of people who don’t have the same food luxuries I do.

Watching the program makes me extremely thankful to have an abundance of farmers markets and grocery stores that offer loads of fresh fruits and veggies. One of the personal stories in the program that struck me was of a young couple and their two children, seven months and 22 months. The family lives in Texas and while the wife works, the husband has been out of work for a while. They qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, that is also known as food stamps. The mother wants to provide her family with healthy food, but their neighborhood is considered a “food desert,” or a place where healthy, affordable food is hard to find or not available. So, she has a choice – she can purchase food at a local convenience store where everything is packaged, or she can take a 60-minute bus ride to another neighborhood and buy fresh produce. Fortunately, her work schedule allows her to do this, but her food budget doesn’t — her small family is only given about $12 a day, or $1 per person, per meal, per day. So, she has another choice — she can use up her entire budget buying fresh produce that doesn’t make a meal, or she can spend her money on cheap food that will go further.

Like I mentioned before, there is not a single community in the United States that is hunger-free, meaning Portland is not immune to this hunger epidemic – and far from it in fact. My friend Hannah wrote a fantastic article for Willamette Week about Portland’s food deserts. You can read it here, so I won’t go into detail, but the bottom line is that there are thousands of children and adults in Portland who go hungry or who don’t have easy access to healthy food.

Hunger is a big problem, but luckily there are ways to help, if you are able. The program promoted an initiative by the Food Network and Share our Strength called “No Child Hungry.” It’s a plan to eliminate childhood hunger by 2015. It’s an ambitious goal, and I hope they can do it.

After I watched the program I got on the website to do some research, and with the plan to donate to the cause. But then I started thinking about our local communities that have hungry families, and I found myself wanting do something local. If you are as concerned as I am, and want to put some money toward the effort of making sure no child or adult in our community goes to bed hungry, I have compiled a list of a few organizations you can donate to.

Also, if you’ve read this far, thanks for reading this really long post. I know I tend to get on a subject and run with it, but this one is really important.

How you can help

Farmers Ending Hunger – Josh and I made a donation to this organization as Christmas gifts to his family last year. The organization has the goal of eliminating hunger in Oregon by working with farmers, food processors and the public to get local, healthy food in the hands of those that need it.

Urban Gleaners – this organization relies on volunteers who pick up edible, surplus food from grocery stores, farmers markets, farms, restaurants, and event sites and delivers it to local agencies that feed the hungry. The Portland Farmers Market works with this organization, which I think is fabulous!

Fresh Exchange Sponsorship – this is a program offered through the Portland Farmers Market (see below) that offers anyone with an Oregon Trail Card to purchase food at each Portland Farmers Markets. You can donate to help make the matching program possible.

If you need help

SNAP and the Portland Farmers Market – If you are on food stamps and want some help making your dollar go a bit further, you can use your Oregon Trail Card in exchange for tokens that you can use at market vendors. There is also a token-matching program for Fresh Exchange that provides dollar-for-dollar matching up to a certain amount each week.

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