Understanding Food Security

In my early 20’s, I served for several years as a missionary in Alaska, working at a Bible camp 6 months and then back into town for the rest of the year. Money was not abundant in those years, and so neither was food. There was always food at camp, but town was a different story. I wasn’t hungry, but I didn’t always know where the next meal was coming from.

In town, sometimes the food pantry came through. The print shop could be counted on for a bagel or a donut most mornings (or at least candy that came with every ink delivery), and sometimes I could find cheap bruised produce in the store. Often, the answer to my prayers was a call saying, “We got extra deer/moose/caribou hanging in the garage. Come get it.” I had perfected the art of visiting friends at 4:30pm in order to be available for a dinner invitation. Sans invitation, I would forage Costco or Fred Meyers for samples. Growing up in a grocery store had not prepared me for bare cupboards.

One of the immediate impacts of the Covid-19 crisis, one that is likely to continue for months past the last viral transmission, is the increasing food insecurity faced by people around the world. My work for Children’s Hunger Fund has made me more aware of the difficulties encountered by those who live in poverty (USDA definitions of Food Security here).

Here are a few statistics:

  • Worldwide, more than 821 million people go to bed hungry every night (Great world map documentation here.)
  • 1 in 3 of those 821 million also suffer from malnutrition.
  • Within the United States, 1 in 7 children face regular food insecurity, with almost 30 million children receiving free or reduced-cost meals at school.

The US has some assistance available in many communities. For example, while schools were shut down, my town of Santa Clarita has responded quickly with a plan. But that won’t work for everyone. I mention the US stats because sometimes we often forget the folks who are across the street or next door.

Internationally, the story is different. Many countries with high poverty rates still have food on the shelves, but even less money now to purchase it. Some countries do not have legalities in place to control price gouging and/or the supply chain from normally generous countries or NGO’s has begun to shrivel.

So we are all thinking about food these days. Maybe you have a full pantry and plenty of toilet paper, and you are home with your children untouched by hunger. Perhaps you are looking for some activities, maybe even new habits, that might bring some relief to people who could use some help. Following here are four activities that you could use to help your family become aware of these issues and give a hand, especially as September is Hunger Action Month.

Conduct a neighborhood food drive. Our communities’ and churches’ Food Banks are already tapped and are looking for more resources. Make a notice for your apartment building, leave notes on your neighbor’s gates, put a note out on your Next Door app to let people know that on such-and-such-a-day you will be collecting specific items. My local Food Pantry has a whole process outlined here to get started with ideas. Of course, gloves, social distance, hand sanitizer, yada, yada.

Serve a “Hey, That’s Not Fair” meal. Feed one member of your household a really nice meal, but everyone else only gets rice and beans. Some years ago, I ran a retreat for some of my university students. When the 40 students arrived at the retreat, I was grilling steak, and they got pretty excited. When the steak was done, I announced that “Dinner is ready.” I took the steak inside and set it on a table on the other side of a glass door on the patio where the students were waiting. Then I returned to the students and gave them bags with PB and J and loaves of bread. I tapped two students to join me, and the three of us returned inside to eat the steak in full view of the hungry students. I wanted these potential missionaries to develop sensitivity to their own wealth and privilege in comparison to their locations of service. The debrief conversation we had that night was significant in their thinking and mine.

“Eat on a Budget” Challenge. Some of your read those words and say, “What else is new?” Sure, but your kids may have no idea what that looks like in real dollars and cents. Many families in the US who struggle with food security receive some government assistance through Food Stamps. The average budget for that assistance would be about $4.50 per person per day. Think through with your kids what it would be like to live on that budget. Set up a “store” in your house. Identify how much each item costs and have your family “live” on that budget for a few days. (Math lessons in this activity, too!)

Support a non-profit that helps to mitigate food insecurity. Put some money aside each week or month, have your kids count the money, and send it off. Then, read the reports for the ministry with your family. My favorite, of course, is Children’s Hunger Fund, working in the US and two dozen other countries to resource local churches to Deliver Hope. For $24 a month, donors can become a Hope Partner to provide meals to two families in need. You can also send a Food Pak and visit Poverty Encounter either in-person or on-line.

A final word to my readers who follow Jesus: When He walked among us, Jesus knew what it meant to be hungry (John 4). He also was eager to supply people with food to those who were with him lacked food (John 6). He even declared that our faith would be evident to others as we serve Him by serving others’ practical needs (Matthew 25). These passages will also help to guide us all as we consider how to care for others in this broken world.

Do you have some other activities on this theme? Feel free to share in the comments!


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