As we head into the holiday season, the struggle against hunger in America is set to reach a crisis level. Not only are there 49 million Americans currently listed as "food insecure," but with the $11 billion reduction in federal support of food stamps as of Friday, November 1, people -- many of them children and the elderly -- who are food insecure are expected to turn to food banks in record numbers to supplement their needs. A 10 percent reduction in benefits couldn't have come at a worse time.
Our growing dependence on food charities to step into the void should not be the long term solution. It should only be a mitigating way for us all to help. Raising the minimum wage might be a better answer as is providing healthy affordable food choices. In the short term however, despite the economic downturn of 2008, direct donations to food assistance organizations have luckily increased. Also corporations, entrepreneurs, food activists and everyday folks have stepped up with new, fun and creative ways for people to give.
Out are the days of old cardboard donation boxes; in are online food drives by innovators like YouGiveGoods and group-sourced efforts to get the entire community involved. The Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona encourages donors to organize church collections and company-wide competitions in an effort to benefit the hungry.
At the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank, the ideas are equally creative -- and effective -- with the fall-back option to donate directly via cash or credit card. (For those who are interested, The Daily Meal posted the ultimate list, which they are calling "48 Things You Can Do to Help Fight Hunger in America."
Another encouraging development is that there is an increasing number of ways to get fresh produce to those in need. While it is not yet a universal option, a series of new programs around the country, like online food drives, have made it a more common occurrence.
At theFood Bank of Central New York, donors can search for fresh produce locations by zip code. Harvesters, based in Kansas City, also supports fresh produce donations, while aiding in community education across a 26-county network that includes more than 620 nonprofit agencies.
For those that ask why we should donate healthy food, the link between poverty and poor food choices has been well established. Here in Philadelphia, the Coalition Against Hunger reports that over 494,000 residents turned to food pantries last year. Of this figure, 70 percent were from households struggling with hypertension, diabetes or heart disease.
The goal in citing these figures is to focus on the importance of donating the right food choices. Just as you wouldn't serve a diabetic an ice cream cake for his or her birthday, you should give equal thought to what you contribute to food drives. After all, when we give, isn't it our hope to make the greatest and most positive impact?
The stakes, frankly, couldn't be higher. While some are calling the current situation a "food cliff," the tools available to us and the popular support of food causes can certainly overcome these odds. We can help food organizations keep pace with unprecedented need. This holiday season and beyond, all it takes is a few clicks of the mouse.
President of Eagles Youth Partnership, Eagles Social Responsibility, Christina Weiss Lurie is an Oscar-winning executive producer whose documentary, "A Place at the Table," illuminates the hunger crisis in America. Most recently, the Philadelphia Eagles and YouGiveGoods have partnered on an online fresh food drive to benefit the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger's Green Light Pantry program. It commenced on Friday, November 1 and runs until Friday, November 29.