Originally published in The Weekly Sun, 09/19/2012
For many of us, fall is a wonderful time of year. The crisp September mornings herald the approach of winter, while the days are still warm enough to tease us with the last lingering bits of summer. Outdoor activities can still be enjoyed without the addition of lots of extra clothes. The change of season is palpable and it helps us create a change in focus.
At The Hunger Coalition, our minds are focused on the return to school, a steady stream of fresh produce from the fall harvest and upcoming Hunger Awareness Month in October. Fall brings with it an increase in activity for us as we prepare for what we call “the hunger season,” those months when employment opportunities diminish, utility bills rise and weather conditions impact people on so many different levels.
Hunger is an issue that impacts us all.
To be a healthy, thriving community everyone who lives here needs to be healthy, thriving and contributing community members. According to a study conducted by Feeding America, a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to eradicating hunger in our country, nearly 15% of our local population – that is 3,090 Blaine County residents- are experiencing hunger. Over one third of them are children.
Due to the lingering economic crisis, more children are enrolling in free and reduced cost meal programs through the school district; an increase that is more surprising given the decrease in overall enrollment in Blaine County schools. More families are finding themselves struggling to make ends meet.
A common misconception is that poverty and hunger go hand in hand. In reality, although related, unemployment is a stronger factor in why families find themselves in the position where they have to skip meals or have no idea when they will eat next. Imagine that you are in mid-career with kids in school and you lose your job or have a health crisis that leaves you with extensive medical bills. You’ve exhausted your savings. You’ve cut corners wherever you can. You have never had to seek out help before and you know you are capable, but you just aren’t making it. What do you do?
At The Hunger Coalition, we’re often asked about our neighbors in need. Questions range from disbelief, “Are there really hungry people in Blaine County?” to critical, “If it’s so hard to live here, why come here or stay here?” In response, we point to the statistics about this quiet epidemic. One in six people in the United States is dealing with hunger on a daily basis. Locally, these are often hard-working families who have raised their children in our schools, volunteered in our community and many, until recently, owned their own homes. They are our neighbors and they have the same hopes and dreams as the rest of us. They live here because they want to make a better life for themselves and their children.
As we move from the season of summer playfulness into the season of reflection and gratitude, now is a great time to meditate on the abundance that many of us have in our lives. The coming season is marked by the celebrations of Thanksgiving and holiday cheer. These celebrations include feasts where the abundance of food is meant to add a comforting contrast to the long, dark and cold days of the season. For many in our small community, these feasts will be meager or won’t exist at all.
So please think of your neighbor this season. Reach out a helping hand. No one is undeserving.