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Student Hunger Drive Collects Over 650,000 Pounds of Food For Families In Need

Eighteen widely scattered high schools in have a thirty year tradition to uphold together. And it’s not a football game or a senior prank, not school trips or a party.

It’s charity, on a grand scale.

For a six-week span every autumn from the beginning of October to mid-November, the eighteen schools compete to see which can bring in the most food donations, measured by weight, to be donated to food banks and directly to the communities where it’s needed most. The schools involved are in the Quad Cities area of Iowa and Illinois, Charlotte, North Carolina, Indiana, and Nebraska.

Each school brainstorms a strategy to collect as much as possible. This year, four schools collaborated on a dodgeball tournament, with nonperishable food as the admissions price. Another organized a Hunger Games-themed event, with teachers as the tributes, and the amount of food collected per class determining who won.

Liz Treiber, executive director of the Student Hunger Drive, tries to mix serious education into the game-like elements of it. She makes sure to educate students about hunger statistics in the US and especially locally, letting them realize that some of the people they’re feeding are their classmates without singling anyone out. The website has many more statistics, as well as resources to learn more about hunger in the US.

This year, Alleman High School in Rock Island, Illinois won the competition, with approximately 500 students pulling in 85,255 pounds of food. Together, the eighteen schools collected more than 657,305 pounds of food, or approximately 547,700 meals for the needful. In the thirty-year history of the contest, student efforts have provided more than 13.2 million meals. The contest provides most of the supply for 120 local foodbanks (via River Bend Foodbank) between November and February, according to Trieber.

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Giving Back, For the Love of Food

Healthy Food
IMG: via Shutterstock

Philanthropy comes in many shapes and sizes. It can mean dedicating your time to a worthy cause, donating funds to a charitable foundation, or becoming an activist to help improve the quality of life for others. The latter is perhaps the most difficult to do, and involves a lot of patience, and perseverance. Social change is a slow-moving thing, after all.

Right now, working to ensure that all people, regardless of income, have access to healthy foods has become a national priority. Many the most outspoken and influential activists taking part in this cause are some of the country’s most renowned chefs, who are using their celebrity, experience, and passion for food to improve the lives of others. Over the last few years, as versions of the farm bill have been altered and revised, chefs like Mario Batali, Rick Bayless, Alice Waters, and Wendell Berry, among many others, have stepped up to show their support for issues like government advocacy for small farmers, healthy eating campaigns, and food stamp reform.

Initiatives like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are working towards ending hunger in our country, but it’s the extended work towards broadening nutrition education programs that is really going to impact hunger in America. Many celebrity chefs have put in time to support and improve SNAP, which has recently extended food stamp services to include farmer’s market purchases. Increasing awareness about healthy eating, supporting small farmers, and helping those in need of nutrition assistance afford local, organic produce is something that is greatly improving the quality of life for many people.

Changing the way that people eat, and providing aid to small farmers is a huge priority for many of our country’s chefs, as well as the House Committee on Agriculture. Chairman Frank D. Lucas says, “The work of the Agriculture Committee, including reauthorizing the Farm Bill, affects every American; ensuring that our farmers and ranchers have the tools they need to produce an abundant and affordable food and fiber supply is as important to our country as national defense.” Many celebrity chefs, farmers, and consumers like you and me would agree.

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Hunger in America Growing

Feeding America
IMG: via feedingamerica.org

According to Feeding America, the United States has many more hungry citizens than it used to. The nonprofit organization is now feeding about 50% more people than it did in 2006, and though more people have stepped up to help, there are still far too many hungry families in the nation.

Today, about 1 in 6 Americans lives in a food-insecure household. “Food security” is defined as having healthy food available and accessible. Among children, 1 in 5 lives in a food insecure household. Not having access to proper nutrition causes more than just hunger; it can also contribute to chronic diseases, more aggression and anxiety, and inhibited development of social skills.

According to a poll by Gallup, every single county in the U.S. contains food-insecure families. In 2012, about 18.2% of Americans didn’t always have enough money for food. In Mississippi, Alabama, and Delaware that number is greater than 22%. Twelve other states, many in the South, that percentage is between 20% and 22%.

Fifteen percent of Americans live in poverty. That’s nearly 1 in every 6 people. One in 8 Americans is reliant on Feeding America to provide enough food and groceries to survive on. And that number keeps going up. Pantries, kitchens, shelters, and other organizations that work in conjunction with Feeding America have all seen increases in the number of people needing assistance.

Currently, about 60% of food-insecure households participate in federal food assistance programs, and those numbers are up as well. The number of participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is up to 40.3 million from 20 million in 1990; the National School Lunch Program is up to 31.7 million from 24.1 million; and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children is up to 9.2 million from 4.5 million.

Feeding American currently provides food and groceries to some 37 million people every year, but many more still need assistance. It costs about $1 to buy 8 meals for one man, woman, or child. That means that an entire family can be fed for a month from just $45, six months for $270, and one year for $540.

Those interested in helping can also get involved by working at food pantries, transporting food to charitable organizations, participating in virtual or actual food drives, or volunteering for a local Kids Café program.