June 5, 2003, is National Hunger Awareness Day, designed to help raise awareness that hunger exists in America.
Americans know that there is hunger in underdeveloped and war-torn countries around the globe, but they may not realize that there is hunger in the United States as well. In a focus group conducted in 2001 by the Advertising Council, the nation’s leading producer of public-service advertisements, one participant said, “If there were hungry children in America, we’d know about it. The press would report on it, and we would feed those children and solve the problem.”
The fact is that there is hunger in America. Last year, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture reported that 33 million Americans were food insecure—they didn’t know if they would be able to buy the food they needed to feed their families. The Census Bureau announced last fall that, for the first time in a decade, the number of people living in poverty had grown and real earnings had dropped for the average American worker. America’s Second Harvest, the nation’s largest hunger-relief charity, reported in its landmark study, Hunger in America: 2001, that it feeds 23 million hungry Americans, 9 million of whom are children.
Amid the stress of the war and terrorism, American families are facing a more personal sort of stress. More than two million jobs have been lost in the past two years. Discouraged workers have exhausted their savings and emptied their retirement accounts. They have been forced to ask family and friends for aid. And when all other resources are gone, they turn to hunger-relief charities to feed their families. These new demands at food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters have strained the hunger-relief system.
America’s Second Harvest, a national umbrella organization dedicated to creating a hunger-free America, supports a network of more than 200 regional food banks and food-rescue organizations that collect, sort, warehouse, and then distribute the food and personal-care products that are donated by companies across the country. More than 50,000 hunger-relief charities in the U.S. depend on organizations affiliated with America’s Second Harvest for the food they give directly to hungry Americans. These include national organizations such as Catholic Charities, the Red Cross, Meals on Wheels, and the Salvation Army, as well as community and faith-based organizations created to help people on a local level.
America’s Second Harvest makes it easy for food manufacturers, producers, retailers, and restaurants to donate food they cannot sell. Sometimes, food ends up in packages that are mislabeled, dented, or underfilled; or products are the wrong shape, size, or color; or there may just be more on hand than can be sold before its shelf life expires; or excess product may be left over from events. Companies willing to donate such products can call 800-771-2303, and America’s Second Harvest will make arrangements to accept delivery of the donation, make arrangements for shipping to a regional affiliate that can distribute the food, and provide receipts acknowledging the donation.
Last year, America’s Second Harvest network distributed 1.8 billion lb of food—including 17,820 lb of product donated by the exhibitors at the close of the Institute of Food Technologists’ 2002 Annual Meeting & Food Expo® last June. Every day, America’s Second Harvest works with industry professionals to capture potential waste and distribute it through its network of hunger-relief agencies that serve every county in America.
Besides arranging for food donations, food industry professionals can help solve hunger in a number of ways. They can make sure that meetings are held at facilities that participate in “food rescue” programs so that leftovers are distributed to hunger-relief organizations; volunteer at a soup kitchen; teach parents how to prepare healthy meals; add a panel about how food industry people can help end hunger at professional conferences; or invite a local, regional, or national hunger-relief professional to be a guest speaker at meetings.
Food industry professionals can also share their expertise with America’s Second Harvest by volunteering to serve on Corporate Inspection Teams that visit regional food banks and share their knowledge of logistics, marketing, storage, and other food-specific business matters. They can also volunteer to participate in two national programs that particularly depend on the support of foodservice professionals. The first program, Community Kitchen, is a technical training course that provides unemployed people with foodservice skills. These programs rely to a great extent on professionals who are willing to volunteer to share their knowledge with students. The second program is called Kids Cafe. There are more than 600 of these after-school feeding programs at America’s Second Harvest affiliates across the country. They, too, seek professional volunteers to help plan new kitchens at local Kids Cafes, provide menu or foodservice assistance, and teach participating children about nutrition and food preparation.
More information about these and other ways to help solve hunger in America can be obtained by contacting America’s Second Harvest at 312-263-2303 or visiting www.secondharvest.org.
by Robert Forney is President and CEO, America’s Second Harvest, 35 E. Wacker Dr., Suite 2000, Chicago, IL 60601.