Today is September 1, or the start of Hunger Action Month! Several organizations have different names and social media campaigns for this month, but the goal for this month is to raise awareness about food insecurity in America.
I’m very excited about this month because, with school just starting and the holiday season approaching, this is the perfect time for newcomers to learn more about food insecurity in their communities and make small changes that’ll leave a huge impact. Back to school discounts are still going on and students can sign up for different volunteer opportunities at the beginning of the semester.
September is a month for new beginnings, which is why I’m glad it’s also the focus month for food insecurity. Many people do not realize that food insecurity isn’t a distant issue. It exists in many communities and can often go by unnoticed.
According to Feeding America, one in six Americans do not know where their next meal is coming from. Alabama and Georgia are two of the top ten states that struggle with food insecurity.
If you’re new to the topic of food insecurity, or have ever wondered how you can help, I invite you to join me in taking on this task this month. Whether it’s a small act of donating to Feeding America or organizing a food drive, here’s how you can make an impact during Hunger Action Month.
How can you raise awareness about a topic if you don’t really know much about it? One way to help end food insecurity in your community is to research your community’s needs and spread awareness.
For example, glancing at the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service’s (USDA ERS) Key Statistics & Graphics page, you’ll find out that about 14 percent or “17.4 million U.S. households were food insecure at some time during 2014.”
Or, if you’re interested in learning about the statistics in your state or community, look at Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap to learn more about how food insecurity impacts your community. The most recent year of data is 2014, but the map is very in depth.
According to this data, Georgia had an estimated 1,783,450 people who were food insecure and Alabama had 911, 440 in 2014. What I like about this map is that you can select your county and see how many people in your community are affected by food insecurity.
Another topic to research when dealing with food insecurity is Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps. There’s a helpful fact sheet and infographic from 2013 that will help you separate fact from fiction when it comes to food stamps.
After you read through some of these articles, talk to your local community outreach services and ask them what food insecurity looks like for your area. What are the challenges, the needs and the goals they have for helping those in our community gain access to food?
The best way to inspire change in your community is to be the change. Volunteer at your local food bank/community market, organize a canned food drive, fundraise for Feeding America or your local food bank. You can even start a personal fundraiser through Feeding America and encourage your friends to donate on your birthday in lieu of gifts or donate during your football tailgate.
Or think outside the box. Ask local groups if they know of anyone in need or if they have community food pantries set up in their buildings. You can set up something similar to Meals on Wheels and deliver food to families within a church group, school district, etc. Organize a bag lunch drive and have volunteers from your community come in once a week to pack sack lunches for children/families in need.
This month, I will be volunteering with different groups around my campus. I will be collecting canned goods for our school’s Beat Bama Food Drive, and volunteering with The Campus Kitchen and the Food Bank of East Alabama. This is what I will be doing, but it does not have to be what everyone must do. A simple Facebook post or donating/volunteering every so often to your local food bank can make a huge difference.
We each come from different communities with different needs. What works well in one community may not work for the other. Talk to your community leaders, your food banks, and local outreach services, and see what the specific needs of the community are.
If there’s a shortage of pasta for your food bank, focus on that. If there’s a shortage of school lunches for children at your local elementary school, talk to your local school leaders about organizing a sack lunch drive. Take advantage of this month and let it inspire you to establish a relationship with your community members. Bring everyone to the table this month by participating in Hunger Action Month.