By Vicki Escarra, President and CEO of Feeding America, and Bill Shore, CEO of Share Our Strength
Hunger in America is a serious problem.
The latest data from the United States Department of Agriculture shows that more than 49 million Americans experience “food insecurity” each year – that is, they’re not sure where they’ll find their next meal. That means one in six Americans is hungry.
That staggering number includes nearly 17 million children, who fall behind physically, cognitively, academically, emotionally and socially as a result of being hungry. It also includes seniors who are forced to choose between buying food and paying for medication. One-third of those in need report that they have been forced to skip meals, cut portions significantly, or go without food altogether in order just to meet their basic financial obligations.
The scope of hunger can seem overwhelming. But know this: Together, we can end hunger in America. There is not just one cause of hunger, and there is not just one solution. One thing is clear, though: hunger in America is solvable.
We need to do more. We need creative ideas for educating and engaging Americans around this issue. We need new approaches and new solutions to address the root causes and established barriers to progress that we face every day. We need your help to find those solutions. And we need to begin right now.
Finding the Right Solutions
There are many contributing factors to hunger, among them: poverty, low wages and unemployment, rising cost of living expenses, and access to nutritious and affordable food. The current economic recession, and the resulting rise in unemployment, has driven sharp increases in the need for emergency food assistance and enrollment in federal nutrition programs. But even in good economic times, people go hungry because of unexpected events, such as paying for an emergency visit to the hospital, a car repair, or the loss of a job. And the problems associated with hunger are not confined to small pockets of society, certain areas of the country, or certain neighborhoods. Hungry people can be found in every city, county and state in America. Hunger touches all of us in some way.
Ending hunger in America can have a profound impact on our society. Ending hunger, and especially childhood hunger, will contribute significantly to solving many of America’s most pressing and long-lasting problems — healthcare, education, workforce competitiveness, and ultimately economic stability.
There are already innovative and entrepreneurial strategies being pursued with the goal of ending hunger in America. Food assistance, nutrition education programs, the promotion of economic independence for individuals and communities, and advocacy are just a few of the examples of how government, non-profits, corporations, individuals and communities are working together to alleviate and prevent hunger and poverty. But they aren’t enough. Hunger is still on the rise.
Feeding America and Share Our Strength are vibrant, successful organizations who are leading this fight.
Feeding America provides low-income individuals and families with the fuel to survive and even thrive. As the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity. Its mission is to feed America’s hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage our country in the fight to end hunger. Each year, the Feeding America network provides food to more than 37 million low-income people facing hunger in the United States, including more than 14 million children and nearly 3 million seniors.
Share Our Strength works every day to mobilize industries and individuals to help raise awareness of, and provide support for, efforts to combat childhood hunger.
Through a national No Kid Hungry Campaign, Share Our Strength is building leadership and coalitions at the state level to develop and implement comprehensive plans to end childhood hunger; providing grants to local schools, community centers and other organizations working to ensure that children have access to nutritious food; and implementing a cooking-based nutrition education program for low-income parents and children in communities across the country.
But as successful as we have been, hunger in America will remain a problem until a national movement takes shape.
No organization is equipped to tackle this issue alone. We have teamed up for this effort because we recognize that our organizations don’t have all the answers. We can’t come up with all the solutions. Beyond raising awareness and expanding our reach into the communities that need our support the most, both Feeding America and Share Our Strength must continue to innovate, explore additional opportunities, develop new solutions, and push forward in our efforts to end hunger in America.
Now we need your help. Ending hunger in America will require steady and determined work, year after year. But we can also make a difference starting today.
Increased community education and awareness of hunger is the first step in solving the problem, but its only part of the challenge that needs to be met. We need more people to care enough to take action. But we also need them to keep caring and taking action until we reach our goal. We need new and different approaches to addressing hunger. We need systemic changes. We need better policies. We need consistent and sustained approaches, in communities everywhere.
Hunger in America is a serious problem. We cannot wait to act. We shouldn’t hesitate if we want to end hunger in America – to make bold changes to our approach to this issue. We don’t need to wait until our economy rebounds. We can’t wait until the other important issues are addressed – until a healthcare bill is passed, our energy crisis is averted, or our education system is fixed. We cannot wait until it is convenient, or easy to act.
Do you know someone who is who struggles to buy food? Do you know what would help to address their needs — not just for a day, a week, a month but for the rest of their lives? Do you know how organizations like Feeding America and Share Our Strength, along with our partners and supporters, might approach the issue of hunger differently? How does your experience and expertise offer a different perspective on this issue, or provide a different approach to the challenges that we face?
This is your invitation to act
This effort begins today. Right now. It will continue every day until we find new and better solutions to help end hunger in America. Those solutions will be created here. They will come from you. They will be driven by your spirit and creativity. They will be powered by your expertise and informed by your experiences.
We aren’t looking for another campaign concept, a catchy slogan, or a new tool. South-by-Southwest brings together the most diverse, talented, innovative and capable audience anywhere. But this group hasn’t been applied to solving the problem of hunger in America before. Not like this.
We are committed to ending hunger in America and we are asking you to make that commitment. We want your ideas and energy, starting today, and your commitment to work with us over the coming year to end hunger in America.
Together we can end this.