It’s Monday around lunchtime. My stomach is grumbling but I didn’t bring anything for lunch. Either I’ll have to eat out of the vending machine or leave work and face the -8 temps outside to grab lunch.
It’s not a tough decision. I’ll just starve.
The next day, I go through the same song and dance. I decide to run a few errands and hit the drive-through. On the way back to the office, I notice a large group of people gathered around a yellow building in downtown Alton. A sign on the building reads “When I was hungry, you fed me” – Matthew 25: 35. The sight hits home to me. Those people are the true faces of hunger in America, in my community − war veterans, former business owners, families hit with unexpected medical issues, single educated mothers − everyday people in need of nourishment.
Rain or shine, they arrive sometimes an hour before the building opens and stand outside in frigid temperatures or wait in warming cars to ensure that their next few meals will be certain. For some, this is the first time in their lives they’ve been unable to support themselves.
Far too often, we as a society aren’t compelled to be charitable until the end of the year, “the Season of Giving.” Why is this? Is it because the holidays are too sentimental and the thought of everyone not having a Thanksgiving with all of the trimmings is unimaginable? I really don’t know. The answer varies for each person. But, having volunteered numerous hours at a church food pantry, I do know this. For families searching for their next meal, hunger is not limited to certain months of the year. Warmer months often prove more difficult for food pantries. It’s a double whammy. Not only are kids out of school and unable to receive free or reduced school meals, but giving is down.
Hunger is more prevalent than we realize. According to Feeding America, 12.4 percent or 33,250 of Madison County residents are food-insecure, meaning they don’t know where their next meal will come from. That number continues to rise. The economy may be on the rebound, but for many Americans, budgets are tight and have little to no wiggle room. As result, tough decisions must be made by families facing hunger…medicine or rent? Gas or food? Often, food and medicine are the first essentials to get the axe. The decision to donate makes a difference. The decision to donate and to whom to donate is a personal decision. You might have a particular charity in mind because of personal connection or you might be uncertain about how to help. Madison County has multiple food pantries that serve our community and support countless families including – but not limited to - Alton Salvation Army, the Crisis Food Center in Alton, the Community Hope Center in Cottage Hills, the Collinsville Area Ministerial Association’s Helping Hands Food Pantry, and the Community Care Center in Granite City.
Many of us made New Year’s resolutions. What if we made a belated resolution to expand the season of giving, to a year of giving? Everyone has a different budget, but no donation is too small. A single dollar can purchase nine meals. Volunteers are never turned away. Food pantries are always in need of a good set of hands to help sort and distribute donations. Another option is to organize a food drive. This is a great way for you to collaborate with co-workers, family and friends and collect large amounts of food.
Food is medicine…to the body … to the soul. Let’s join together in 2014 to help our area food banks make someone’s day a little brighter and heal their spirit.