Among them: hunger. And while it may at first blush seem counterintuitive, the very same citizens are often staring down the double barrel of both issues. According to a new study (the subject of this Washington Post story), whereas the average American’s diet is becoming more healthful, that’s not the case for the average poor American.
"It’s what we call the hunger-obesity paradox," Ross Fraser, spokesperson for the national nonprofit Feeding America, tells us. “A lot of people don’t eat well because they don’t have money to buy nutritious, high-protein food and are eating a lot of junk food, trying to fill their bellies with just… anything.”
There are currently 49 million nationwide living at risk of hunger. Want to help? Here are five things you can do today, this week, or this month to fight hunger.
Start a Food Drive (and Don’t Wait ‘Till the Holidays!)
"Hunger does not go on holiday; it’s year-round. You don’t have to wait until the holidays to think about it." says Lisa Sposato, associate director of food sourcing for New York–based food rescue group City Harvest. Just look around you for ideas: “If you live in an apartment complex, there’s your food drive right there. Or your child’s school, or if you live in a very close-knit neighborhood, have one there.” Have time to take an extra step? “Find a local food pantry or food bank first and find out what their needs are.” (Check out these other tips to get your food drive going.)
Double Up on Dinner Groceries
Take advantage of the fact that you’re already at the grocery store and purchase enough food for another family of four for dinner. “Whatever you were planning on fixing for that evening’s dinner, any dry product or canned product, buy an extra [set of it], put that aside, and donate it to a local community program,” says Sposato. Don’t know where your closest program is? Most religious organizations have a food pantry associated with it, she explains, and if the one in your neighborhood doesn’t, they can usually direct you to a nearby food pantry. You will, promises Sposato, “feed a family that day.”
If you don’t have the time or inclination to donate or volunteer, the almighty dollar indeed goes a long way, and is often the most sought-after help. “We can literally distribute 10 meals for each dollar donated to us,” says Fraser. “We get $2 billion worth of food donated to us each year, but we still have to get it from Point A to Point B, and that costs money.”
"If people think, ‘I can’t afford to buy extra groceries or donate,’ well, their time is of value. Every organization could use volunteers. We depend on them for food rescue,” says Sposato. (For those unfamiliar with the term, “food rescue” is the act of donating perishable food, often from farmers’ markets.) So try volunteering with a group that picks up leftover fruits and vegetables from farmers markets, as City Harvest does. “Of our 50 million pounds of food we rescue every year, we want 60 percent of that to be produce, because we’re very conscious of having the food we provide be healthy,” says Sposato. Her organization snags food from a full 14 New York City greenmarkets, a lift “that definitely requires volunteers.”
Reach Out to Elected Officials (They Listen!)
Old-school methods still work: If you want to try to help minimize cuts to food stamp programs and support other important hunger-relief programs that require continued funding, go ahead and write, call, and email your local representatives. Many organizations, such as Feeding America, will provide you with phone numbers and talking points, and send you alerts when they need your help getting Congress’s attention. “We’ve had really amazing success,” Fraser says of citizens taking action. “When the public contacts their representatives and says, ‘I voted for you and I believe in this,’ absolutely they’ll listen to their constituents.”