Guest Column: June is National Hunger Awareness Month

When I was a kid, I never actually went to bed hungry. As an adult, though, I realize there was a reason we so often had pancakes at supper. It was that or send us kids to bed hungry. Now, every meal I take with my family is a celebration of the plenty we know in America, the plenty I share in.

It’s a personal issue with me when I realize that there is a disturbing number of people in our community who go to bed hungry and wake up hungry, knowing there is little or no food in their home, and little chance of getting any.

The statistics the federal government releases show that one of every nine people in our community live at or below the poverty line. When I look at the income level that supposedly divides those who are poor from those who are not, I am aware that there are many who are not classified as poor, but who are still struggling. I wonder if those who compile those studies have a realistic idea of the real cost of renting or paying a mortgage, having light and heat these days, having basic transportation, and having access to some kind of health care.

In our nation, food is plentiful and relatively cheap. But there are still many in our community who find themselves making choices between food and shoes for a child, food and medicine for an aging parent or spouse, food and gas so they can get to work.

I find myself wondering, if you are a child, and you are always hungry, how do you find the will and the focus to learn? If you are an adult, and you are always hungry, how effectively can you work and care for your family? If you are often hungry, how can you hope?

Sure, there are programs that provide disadvantaged school kids with a breakfast and/or lunch. Yes, there are food stamps. Yes, Medicare now has a program that assists elderly with the cost of prescription medication. And, yes there is still hunger.

Last year, as an emergency food source, the Rock River Valley Pantry served 66,996 people, providing each with enough food for six nutritionally-balanced meals. That’s more than 400,000 meals. Our mission has always been to be an emergency food source. Even though our resources are available to our clients once each month, the statistics we have kept show us that two-thirds of our clients use the Pantry one to three times in the year, and of the rest, only a small percentage use the Pantry once each month.

Even with that usage pattern, in 2006, we needed the resources to provide 400,000 meals. We needed tons and tons of food, 200 tons, in fact, not counting the 8 tons of fresh fruits and vegetables provided by our local Plant-A-Row program. That food came from food drives, from government commodities, and by purchase, usually from food banks. Some of the funds we used came from grants we applied for, but most came from people like you.

The Pantry is incredibly efficient. Our accountant tells us that 92 percent of what we receive goes out the door in services. At the Rock River Valley Pantry, we benefit from more than 10,000 hours of volunteer support each year. These volunteers help gather the food, sort it, and bag it. Five mornings a week, we serve our clients from our satellite pantry at Crusader Clinic on Broadway, and five afternoons each week, from the main Pantry at Avon and Short Elm. In 2006, we received a grant that provided for a mobile pantry service, which brought food to elderly that were without transportation, or were incapable of leaving their residence. We hope to share another grant this year to provide this same service.

As I said, the thought that people in our community are hungry is a personal thing with me. That’s why I’ve served on the Rock River Valley Pantry Board for more than 15 years. It’s a working board, a dedicated board, coping with the task of raising awareness that hunger exists in our community, and then finding the resources to meet the needs of the hungry. We make sure every bag we provide has six nutritionally-balanced meals for each member of a hungry family. Six meals and, I believe, a little hope.

Fred Lierman is a board member of Rock River Valley Pantry.

from the June 13-19, 2007, issue

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