Imagine, if you will, waking up one morning with an empty stomach wondering what, if any, food scraps you might be lucky enough to muster up to make it through the long day.
Sadly, that plight continues to play out far too often for far too many in the land of plenty across the United States. In the Mahoning Valley alone, more than 86,000 people struggle daily with hunger and food insecurity – not knowing when and where they’ll find their next meal.
That number, according to the Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley, includes 1 in 4 children across Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.
To be sure, the data serve as a stark but brutal backdrop to this month’s poignant observance in the region and the nation of Hunger Action Month. The monthlong focus, however, can only be as successful as the number of people who heed its message and act to make a difference.
The observance began in 2008 when the Feeding America network of food banks in the U.S. – of which SHFBMV is a member – decided to launch a prolonged and aggressive campaign of intensive advocacy and unbounded assistance for the estimated 40 million Americans, including 1.75 million Ohioans, who agonize over hunger on a daily basis.
Over the ensuing 11 years, the monthlong awareness campaign on hunger has grown significantly. Unfortunately, so, too has the basic human need the campaign strives to fill.
SCOPE OF PLIGHT IN VALLEY
Nowhere is the scope of that growth more palpable than in the Mahoning Valley. The loss of several thousand jobs at major employers such as General Motors, Northside Regional Medical Center and others, coupled with underemployment, low and stagnant wages and escalating costs for utilities and other basic necessities, have pushed our region’s major hunger-relief organization into overdrive.
In 2017, the Youngstown-based Second Harvest Food Bank distributed a record 10.6 million pounds of food to its clients at its 148 member agencies. That’s an increase of 200,000 pounds just over the past two years.
We join Second Harvest in urging residents throughout the Valley to actively support Hunger Action Month. We can visibly show our support on Hunger Action Day, which is Thursday, by wearing orange, the color of the campaign that also connotes a stimulant to hunger.
We can, as Second Harvest urges all of us to do during this year’s observance, share what we couldn’t do without adequate nutrition by writing on an empty plate, “On an empty stomach I can’t ______,” and filling in the blank with something we couldn’t achieve without the nutrition we need to thrive. Clearly the options for that sentence completion exercise would be endless. Then post photos of yourself in orange attire with your Hunger Action Day plate at #HungerActionMonth or @feedingAmerica or @SHFBMV.
HUNGER, HEALTH LINK
This year’s plate campaign demonstrates clearly the strong link between hunger and health. An empty stomach, after all, can put a healthy life and a promising future in severe jeopardy.
Having access to healthy foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, is important for the population we serve, especially for senior citizens and children, Michael Iberis, executive director of SHFB, has pointed out.
Most importantly, all of us can recommit ourselves to making a concrete impact toward lessening the scope of hunger in our neighborhoods.
There are many ways to do so. Caring residents can organize a food drive, make a monetary donation to the SHFB or volunteer their time and effort at the organization’s sprawling warehouse and distribution site on Salt Springs Road in Youngstown.
For those who prefer an advocacy role, Feeding America is urging its supporters to contact their U.S. senators and representatives to urge them to thwart draconian cuts, as the House has passed, to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP provides assistance to 40 million Americans and feeds 1 in every 4 children, the group points out. The Farm Bill faces a Sept. 30 deadline for passage.
But whether it’s advocating, volunteering or donating, the ways in which members of our community can participate this month are myriad. The life-changing good works of Second Harvest make a compelling case for Valley residents from all walks of life to commit to at least one concrete action this September to ease the pangs and plight of hunger among us.