Food insecurity, defined as being without affordable and nutritious food, is a pressing issue that affects an estimated 49 million Americans every year. Of this 49 million, 16 million are children under the age of 18. Our hearts go out to those who struggle to find their next meal, but sympathy alone isn’t enough to put food on the table. We encourage everyone in a position to help to extend a hand and donate whatever food items they can, especially those who are fortunate enough to grow their own gardens – don’t let your produce go to waste; donate it to organizations like Feeding America, which serve meals to hungry individuals and families all year round. The Feeding South Dakota branch alone serves over 10 million meals to 190,000 people in need. Do your part and join us – Dr. Willard’s vows to donate its excess produce from our Research Garden to the local Feeding South Dakota program right here in Rapid City.
This is the harsh reality we live in – not a single county in America is exempt from experiencing it. And it’s not that we don’t produce enough food for everyone. An article on ThinkProgress indicates that Americans throw out as much as 40% of their food, a problem steadily growing in size since the 1970s. 31 million tons of food thrown away every year. Instead of going to someone in need, it populates the local landfill, causing its own problems for the environment by releasing methane gas and contributing to the greenhouse effect.
Food insecurity is closely related to the poverty line, which means poverty-stricken individuals simply cannot afford food. It’s a daunting task to choose between eating dinner or paying the electricity bill, or making sure your family has a place to sleep at night. It’s a decision I struggle to even comprehend, yet millions of people weigh the consequences and make their choice each day.
It’s important to examine how food insecurity affects children specifically. While it’s true that various government programs exist for the sole purpose of fighting childhood hunger, many of these programs only persist during the official school year. Summer vacation is a hungry child’s biggest fear – 6 out of 7 kids who receive free or reduced-price school lunch during the academic year do not get a free meal during the summer. Meal programs during this time do exist, but only 1 out of 7 kids are able to make use of the resource.
While the impact of these figures are grim, individuals, non-profits, and agencies all over the country are working together to find solutions. Everyone is familiar with the food stamps program, but the USDA just recently started the “U.S. Food Waste Challenge,” which invites everyone in the country, person or business, to help reduce, recover, and recycle food waste. A sector of mainly soup kitchen volunteers works tirelessly, 24/7 365, in an attempt to provide a warm meal to those in need. Food bank staffers oversee food collection and distribution, ensuring resources are used efficiently. Millions of regular people donate canned goods and other food items every day, but still we can do more.
It starts with you and me. It’s with the effort of many individuals that we overcome hurdles, and eliminating food insecurity will require a massively coordinated group effort. Use your garden as a resource – donate surplus produce to a local food bank near you. Dr. Willard’s has had a great yield this year, and we’re committed to doing the same. If you don’t have a garden, consider starting one. If you don’t have the space or the means to maintain it, there are plenty of other ways to get involved. Volunteer your time to a local community kitchen, organize a food drive at your local school to help curb child hunger, manage a food bank – these organizations are always looking for people passionate about the cause who want to make a difference.
Get in contact with your local division of Feeding America and ask how you can help. They also have a resource on their website which allows you to find drop-off locations if you want to donate food. You can find them here:
It won’t be easy and it won’t be solved tomorrow, but together we can make a difference!