(BPT) - When thinking about childhood hunger, many people envision poverty-stricken regions on another continent, far from home. However, millions of children right here in the United States don't know where their next meal will come from. It's called “food insecurity,” and it's a big problem in communities across the country.
Nearly 50 million Americans, including more than 16 million children and teens younger than 18, live with food insecurity, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). High poverty rates, significant unemployment and rising gas prices are all contributing to the difficulty many families have in putting food on the table.
There is no single solution to address the issue of hunger, but working together can have the greatest impact. Here are three simple things anyone can do to alleviate child hunger in their own communities:
1. Put excess to good use
Having extra can help feed those with less. On the next few visits to the grocery store, if possible, buy one or two extra non-perishable canned food items. Items like pastas, canned tuna and dried beans can be donated to those in need. At the end of the month, gather those canned goods and donate them to the nearest food bank, homeless shelter or church outreach program. Families can likely find even more opportunity to donate by cleaning out their pantries seasonally.
2. Make it a group effort
There is strength in numbers - and the power to make a difference. Join others who share a cause for fighting hunger by volunteering at a soup kitchen (unpacking boxes, cooking or serving food), participating in a community food drive for a food bank, or working with a church's community outreach. Assemble a team of co-workers, neighbors or friends to join the effort.
3. Become an advocate
Spreading the word about a program or organization that truly makes a difference can help expand its reach. Further support the efforts of organizations like the Y by reaching out to those in need and letting them know the programs exist.
To help address child hunger, one national nonprofit is stepping up efforts to feed children during out-of-school time.
Although children from low-income families are eligible to receive free or reduced-cost meals at school, when the school day ends these children are at risk of going hungry. To ensure children receive proper nutrition during out-of-school time, and to provide relief to struggling families, beginning this fall, YMCA of the USA (Y-USA) is strengthening its commitment to healthy living and youth development in communities across the country. With support from the Walmart Foundation, the Y will increase the number of its afterschool programs that provide healthy meals and snacks, along with learning enrichment activities, through the USDA's Child and Adult Care Food Program's (CACFP) Afterschool Meal Program. CACFP feeds school-aged children during the week, on weekends and during school vacations, and participation by community organizations like the Y help extend the program's reach.
“At the Y, we nurture the potential of every child. We are deepening our commitment to address hunger so that more of our most vulnerable children will be well-nourished, active and energized year-round,” says Neil Nicoll, president and CEO of Y-USA.
In partnership with the Walmart Foundation, more than 300 Ys served 5 million nutritious meals and snacks to 100,000 children in summer food programs across the country in summer 2012. By the end of the school year, the Y estimates it will provide an additional 3 million meals and snacks, for a total of 8 million meals and snacks throughout the year.
While it might not always be on the front page of the newspaper or the subject of television commercials, child hunger in the United States is real, and families are silently suffering every single day. Food programs like those offered by the Y help fight the problem so that every child, regardless of their personal circumstances, can get the healthy food they need. To learn more, visit ymca.net.