The holiday season is a time of generosity and giving when many people donate their time and resources to help feed the hungry. During these last few weeks, communities across the country will organize food drives and volunteer at their local food pantries and soup kitchens. These are good entry points for people looking to make a difference, but in order to create lasting change, we need to further the conversation and advocate for solutions that address the root causes of hunger and poverty. Here are our top ten ways to help end hunger this holiday season:
1. Power up your food drive.
Emergency food providers (food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens) can purchase and acquire food in bulk, which means that a dollar donated can go many times farther than a dollar spent on cans for a food drive. Cash donations also help pay the important but often overlooked overhead costs of running a food pantry or soup kitchen, such as transportation or utilities.
Still want to hold a food drive? Ask people to match each food item they donate with a dollar, or host a healthy food drive. Many people who depend on food pantries and soup kitchens have diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure, so to maintain health, they need foods that are low in sugar, fat and salt. Take a look at SuperFood Drive's materials for hosting a healthy food drive, and be sure to ask the food pantry or soup kitchen what types of food or supplies they need the most. You won't know until you ask, and you may be surprised.
2. Advocate for federal nutrition programs.
About one in four Americans depends on USDA food and nutrition assistance programs to help feed themselves and their families. These programs, such as SNAP, WIC and public school breakfast and lunch provide over 20 times more food than food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens do, which is why it is so important to advocate for government policies that help hungry people, especially as Congress considers deep cuts to these programs.
3. Volunteer in February.
Many people like to volunteer on Thanksgiving or Christmas because it feels good to help people in need, but food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens need dedicated volunteers year-round. Start a new tradition and sign up to help on a different day, like Arbor Day, or your birthday.
Many emergency food providers are in need of volunteers with specialized skills, such as accounting, social media or website design. If you have something unique to offer, talk to the organization to see how you can get involved.
4. Support grassroots solutions.
Many people in need are making their own change and working to improve access to healthy food in their own communities. Building a stronger local food economy can create jobs, keep money in the region and give people control over their own food. You can support these efforts in community gardens, co-ops, farmers markets, youth empowerment programs and similar work.
5. Read a book.
A greater understanding of the underlying causes and systems of hunger and poverty in America will better equip you to make a difference. Read a classic, like Sweet Charity by Janet Poppedieck or Nickeled and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, or check out more recent publications, such as The American Way of Eating by Tracie McMillan or The Stop by Nick Saul and Andrea Curtis. Rather see a movie? Check out A Place at the Table.
6. Advocate for an increased minimum wage.
As the cost of living rises, incomes are not keeping up, and many people are finding they have to cut food costs to pay their other bills and expenses. Increasing the minimum wage is a lasting way to reduce hunger and bring people out of poverty. A bill to increase the federal minimum wage has been introduced in the Senate, and there are also many efforts to raise the minimum wage on state and local levels.
7. Support fair wages and better conditions for food workers.
Nearly 20 million people are employed as restaurant or farm workers in the U.S. Despite the back-breaking nature of this work, these are some of the lowest-paying jobs in the country. A recent study showed that more than half of the families of front-line, fast-food workers depend on public programs such as Medicaid or food stamps. You can make a difference by supporting organizations who are working to change this, such as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Restaurant Opportunities Centers and United and Food Chain Workers Alliance.
8. Stand behind immigration reform.
One-third of undocumented immigrants live in poverty. Immigration reform has the potential to grant immigrants access to both government benefits and many career and education opportunities that could help them attain a better quality of life and reduce hunger.
9. Be an ally.
Dispel stereotypes and misconceptions about hunger and poverty. Educate yourself and others. Many hungry people hesitate to ask for help because of the stigma and shame of poverty. Pundits and politicians use misinformation to promote policies that hurt hungry people. Speak up when you hear someone spreading false information or mistaken beliefs.
10) Spread the word.
Share this article with friends and family so they can make a difference, too. And If you know someone who needs help finding food, you can refer them to WhyHunger's National Hunger Hotline (1-866-3 HUNGRY and 1-877-8 HAMBRE). Download National Hunger Hotline posters and hang them in places like libraries, schools and supermarkets, so hungry people in your community can find out how to access government nutrition programs and emergency food.