April 12, 2016

The Stranger in the Supermarket

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I once brought a struggling woman into a grocery store. After she had collected what she needed, she hid timidly in an aisle until I found her again. When I approached the register to pay I understood why: the cashiers and manager had been rumbling quietly about her, unsure she could pay and discussing how to remove her from the store.

Later I watched a woman on a traffic island wrestle her pride to timidly reveal a sign etched “NEWLY HOMELESS, CHILDREN TO FEED. ANYTHING HELPS.”

These scenes are symptoms of hunger in my city. I’m lucky that I don’t have to worry about where my next meal will come from. But whether or not I suffer directly, I am affected by hunger every day.

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When I began working at MAZON nearly eight years ago, I believed that food banks and soup kitchens could solve hunger in America. After all, how could hunger be such a huge problem when we produce more than enough food to go around?

I’ve since learned that hunger cripples us physically and mentally, individually and communally. It reduces the potential of the human spirit to a single-minded struggle for survival. It is a social disease for which we all share responsibility. When one of us hungers, none can live fully. 

I also learned that every private charity– every food bank, soup kitchen and food pantry working at full capacity – can only alleviate a small fraction of hunger in America. Without robust nutrition programs and dynamic public-private partnerships, addressing only the short-term symptoms of hunger is like putting a band-aid on an open artery.

The scale of hunger in America is inexcusable. And while our constitution stops short of listing “food” as a human right, it follows that without adequate nutrition our life, liberty and ability to pursue happiness are crippled. Educations are squandered when children spend more time thinking about the gnawing in their bellies than the lessons on the board.

Poor nutrition not only hinders education, it has a devastating effect on overall health. Those with limited access to fresh food are more likely to suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and a host of other medical complications, placing an added burden on our healthcare system and shifting our focus from preventative to reactionary care.

No one in America needs to go hungry. John F. Kennedy pronounced, “We have the ability, as members of the human race, we have the means, we have the capacity to eliminate hunger from the face of the earth in our lifetime. We need only the will.” Over 50 years later, we still struggle to realize his vision.

I am proud that MAZON is a leading advocate to realize this vision. Along with targeted advocacy on both the state and federal level, MAZON supports more than 200 anti-hunger organizations across the United States and Israel. These admirable partners address not only the symptoms of hunger, but look toward sustainable, long-term solutions. In order to effectively address hunger, we have to work together to change the conversation. Instead of just filling empty bellies, we should be asking why those bellies are empty. 

So how can you help? Along with monetary donations and food drives, research and support organizations that fight for sustainable solutions. Find out how your representatives voted on important hunger legislation - write them to say thank you or urge them to reconsider their position. Submit an op-ed to your local paper and question why we tolerate a system that denies nearly 50 million of our brothers and sisters the chance to lead full and healthy lives.

Challenge your assumptions daily – others will follow suit. Replace fear with awareness; insecurity, with hope. Never stop fighting for a better world. I know I won’t.