Holiday Hunger: A Recipe for Change

Pass the turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy. The holiday season is here; and after several helpings, it's hard to imagine ever feeling hungry again.

But for many in our nation, that isn't so. As we mark National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, we remember that hunger is a common symptom -- even in the U.S. -- of the poverty many face. Even so, the holidays are a time when food is more plentiful for them as well due to generosity shown by many throughout the season. In fact, FACETS -- a Fairfax-based nonprofit serving those suffering the effects of poverty -- receives ample food donations during the holidays to share with our clients. But just a few months ago, our emergency food pantry was almost empty.

The holidays, therefore, are a great time to remind everyone that hunger exists year-round in our nation for nearly 50 million Americans, according to the USDA. And no surprise... hunger, homelessness and poverty are interconnected. As poverty levels have increased over the past several years, more people have housing issues and fewer have regular nutritious meals.

Here in Fairfax County, almost 58,000 people live in poverty, based on federal guidelines, and many have to make decisions between putting food on the table and paying rent. For the more than 1,500 people who are homeless in the county -- many of whom are served by FACETS -- hunger, good nutrition, as well as access to food and the means to cook it, are daily issues.

For FACETS, hunger provides a way to connect with those who are homeless or at risk of being homeless and deliver life-changing services. Over the course of the winter, our volunteers will serve more than 42,000 meals through our Hot Meals Program and Hypothermia Prevention and Response Program, which starts up again on Thanksgiving weekend.

In addition to providing food, the hypothermia program, operating across Fairfax and Falls Church in partnership with the Fairfax County government and approximately 40 faith communities, works to prevent weather-induced illness and death, as well as offers personalized case management to all guests who want to participate. These efforts enable us to build relationships with those who are in need of additional services so we can connect them with housing, jobs, mental health services and other social services to help them end their homelessness.

Last season, nearly 40 percent of all hypothermia program guests chose to take advantage of this one-on-one service, resulting in many adults moving off the streets and into permanent housing... and it all started because they were hungry.

As you enjoy a second helping and wrap up the leftovers, pause and remember that most of us are fortunate to have these. Others are simply thankful that there was food available from an emergency pantry or shelter. But hunger doesn't know holidays. And the rest of the year, when the free meals have been distributed and holiday food collections finished at schools, grocery stores, and churches, hunger still exists.

That's why donations of food or grocery gift cards are welcome any time of the year. They do so much more than feed people. They open the door for us to our neighbors who are vulnerable with critically needed services that can change their lives. Sharing the gift of food this holiday season can be the key to transforming lives -- a perfect present.