What images does the word "hunger" bring to mind?
A dirty child with a distended belly in a Third World country? A homeless vet in one of the nation's multi-million-people cities? A famine in a far-away place?
What about a first-grade student at a Kenai Peninsula school whose only good meal of the day is what she gets through the district's lunch program? Or the single mother who doesn't know how she is going to feed her children until the next paycheck, which is more than a week away? Or the elderly man on a fixed income who can't fend for himself the way he once could and is too proud to ask for help? Or the teen-ager on his own but with no place to call his own?
It's easy to think of hunger as a big-city or poor-nation problem. It's not.
Statistics from the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank show it's a problem in our own back yard. Last year the food bank distributed 564,000 pounds of food to hungry people. To put that in perspective, that's enough food to feed between 320 and 350 people three meals a day every day for one year. The food bank's soup kitchen served 11,763 meals in 2000, up from 9,343 meals in 1999.
Love In the Name of Christ reports that most of the requests for help it receives are from people needing food.
Those who work in the peninsula's schools see the effects of hunger on children. Research shows that children who do not come to school hungry do better academically, they feel better. If your basic survival needs aren't met, how can you possibly learn?
Lack of finances forced the school district to discontinue a breakfast program several years ago, but students still came to school hungry. Teachers, nurses and other school staff tried to fill the gap by having healthy snacks, cereal or peanut butter and jelly on hand. Now other community organizations quietly are stepping in to make sure students at their neighborhood schools start their day with a full stomach.
A pilot program will begin next month at Sears Elementary School to help ensure every student has breakfast. No student will be refused, but it will be targeted to those students who are truly in need of food. The free program will be quick, simple, nourishing and cost effective -- cereal and milk. Out of a student body of almost 400 students, school officials expect to feed 30 to 50 students a day. They figure it will cost about $200 per month. With the help of Love INC, private individuals and a grant, the school is confident it will be able to continue the program next fall and through the end of 2001.
Similar programs are happening elsewhere with the help of caring individuals, churches and other community organizations. They heard of a need and they stepped up to the plate to fill it -- no red tape attached.
What does this have to do with the rest of the population, most of whom have never known hunger?
You can help relieve hunger on the peninsula in a number of ways. Donations to the food bank and Love INC made through April 30 will go a little further, thanks to the One-Million-Dollar Feinstein Challenge. The challenge will divide $1 million among participating nonprofit, anti-hunger agencies throughout the United States. Funds must be raised by April 30. (By the way, a $1 donation to the food bank helps distribute $5 worth of food.) You also can help by volunteering at the food bank. You also can ask if the school in your neighborhood needs a hand with a breakfast program.
Hunger doesn't just happen someplace else. The simple fact is some of our neighbors will go to bed hungry tonight. If everyone helps a little, the difference can mean a lot.
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