Hungry to Help

This article is courtesy of HomeLife Magazine.

It doesn't add up. Every year the world produces enough food so that each person can eat 2,700 calories a day1. And yet, at this very moment, 925 million people in the world are hungry2. Today, as is true every day, nearly 16,000 children will die from hunger-related causes3.

In the U.S., one of the most affluent nations in the world, the numbers aren't much better. In 2010, 48.8 million Americans lived in food insecure households (meaning they went without food, needed to rely on emergency food sources, or often didn't know where their next meal was coming from). This number accounts for 32.6 million adults and 16.2 million children (feedingamerica.org).

Obviously something is broken.

These stats are especially compelling for those of us who believe in a compassionate God who repeatedly commands us to care for the poor, and who says that when we feed the hungry and give a drink to the thirsty, we are actually doing these things for Him (Matthew 25:34-40).

Thankfully, countless individuals, churches, and ministries are finding ways to serve God by caring for His hungry children. Here are three such stories. May they inspire you to help fulfill the words of the psalmist, "Give thanks to the LORD for His faithful love ... for He has satisfied the thirsty and filled the hungry with good things" (Psalm 107:8-9).

Start Something

It's 4:30 Sunday afternoon and Pastor Jim is standing in the basement of Christ Church of Albany Park holding a well-worn Bible and talking about God making our paths straight. In this crime-ridden, gang-controlled Chicago neighborhood, the message of God's leading is needed encouragement for the 30 or so people seated at the long dinner tables. Most of their lives have included unfortunate twists and turns - unemployment, homelessness, incarceration - the kind of twisty journeys that have led them here, to a soup kitchen.

"For many of them, this is their only true meal sometimes for the week," explains Anita Sanchez, who coordinates the soup kitchen. "They'll get maybe a piece of chicken from a garbage can; otherwise, this is it."

Eleven years ago, Anita was asked to lead this soup kitchen one Sunday a month. She had met some of Christ Church's leadership while volunteering at a summer camp for inner-city kids. When the small congregation decided to offer a weekly meal out of their basement fellowship hall, they approached several suburban Chicago churches about each taking a week. Anita's was one of the first to agree.

"I grew up on the south side of Chicago, and I wanted to give back to the city," Anita says. She soon began enlisting help from her suburban church - assistance that's proven invaluable. "Making a casserole, buying hotdogs and buns, dishing up mashed potatoes, these are little things people can do. But everything counts because it all adds up."

Anita has seen these small acts yield big dividends, especially since the economy declined. One stark example of this is "Mary," a woman who had a good factory job where she earned $70,000 a year. But she got laid off three years ago, and once her unemployment ran out, she lost her home and started living on the streets, where she became an alcoholic. She began frequenting the Christ Church soup kitchen, and finally got into rehab five months ago.

Mary's story had a big impact on Carissa, a 13-year-old volunteer from Anita's church, who had been regularly praying for Mary. Carissa's mom, Kim, loves what this volunteer experience is teaching her children. "We have a lot, and it's good for them to see people who don't - to realize that people have problems and we can show them Christ's love."

"The reason we do this in a church is that we want people to know that God loves them," Anita explains. "Just like He takes care of the birds of the sky, He takes care of us humans. We're like God's little invitation to these people. And then maybe one day they will turn around - like Mary did - and say yes."

How to start something:

▶ Pray for God to open your eyes to the needs in your community. When you see those needs, partner with those in your congregation and with other churches in your community to leverage a wide range of gifts and abilities.

▶ For more advice, go to the North American Mission Board site namb.net and search for "Beginning a Hunger Ministry" and "Basic Guidelines for a Food Ministry."

▶ Find a downloadable 30-day hunger prayer guide to use alone, with your family, or with a church group at baptistglobalresponse.com and search for "prayer guide."

Join a National Network

When school lets out each afternoon in Lexington, Ky., you'll find school kids gathering at various spots around the city - including Shiloh Baptist Church and Consolidated Baptist Church - for a unique program called Kids Café. There, children who wouldn't have dinner otherwise are given a hot meal and a chance to hang out in a safe place.

These churches are among hundreds around the country involved in Feeding America's programs aimed at targeting the alarming number of hungry youth in our nation. Feeding America (feedingamerica.org), the largest domestic hunger relief charity, is a network of food banks that supplies food pantries, soup kitchens, and other food-assistance agencies with food collected from restaurants, manufacturers, grocers, and other donors. One of their biggest goals is eradicating childhood hunger in the U.S.

Due to the huge, growing need and the dire consequences of childhood hunger, Feeding America launched their Kids Café and BackPack programs, which provide food to kids when they otherwise might go without - evenings, weekends, holidays, and summer breaks. Children are invited to the after-school program or given a backpack of food in a discrete manner, always with the dignity and overall well-being of the child in mind.

"If you have never been hungry before, it might be hard for you to understand me," says "James," a 12-year-old participant in a Kids Café program in Lexington, Ky., "but it's painful and it really hurts. Kids think they should never have to worry about this because your parents can take care of you, but sometimes they can't."

James admits he was scared the first time he went to Kids Café. "I didn't want to tell anyone that we didn't have food or money to eat." But he was relieved that the volunteers were friendly, gave him plenty to eat, and even let him take some food home for his siblings.

"The best thing that has happened for me since I have been coming to the Kids Café is now my brothers and I are all together in one foster care home and we eat together at the Kids Café," James explains. "I don't have to worry about trying to find them food so they can eat. We all eat now and are not hungry anymore."

The rise in childhood hunger mirrors the growing demand for food assistance across the nation.

"The face of hunger has changed," says Shannon Traeger, spokesperson for Feeding America (formerly known as America's Second Harvest) "A lot of people think we just serve homeless people. But only 10 percent of the 37 million people we serve annually through our network are actually homeless." That means 90 percent of their clients have homes, and many have jobs or have only recently lost a job. "We recently released a new study that found emergency food from pantries is no longer being used for short-term, temporary food needs," Traeger says. "Instead, for the majority of those seeking food assistance, food pantries are now part of the household's long-term strategy for putting food on the table for their family. And that means we have a lot of work to do."

"Our network is committed to ending childhood hunger," Traeger reiterates. But since many food programs have little to no paid staff, groups like Feeding America need people like you and me to make that happen. "Volunteers are the lifeline of our charitable feeding systems," she says.

How to join a national network:

▶ At feedingamerica.org, find hunger stats for your community by searching for "Map the Meal Gap," and find a local food bank where you can volunteer by searching for "Feeding America in Your Community" and entering your zip code.

▶ Coordinate with your church or school group to start a Kids Café or BackPack program in your neighborhood.

▶ At the homepage for the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund, worldhungerfund.com, you'll find downloadable resources to use in your church to raise awareness about the issue of hunger in the U.S. and abroad.

Act Locally, Feed Globally

It's 9:30 on a Saturday morning and 42 people - including a brownie troop and various members of a local high school service club - are standing in a warehouse in Schaumburg, Ill., wearing hairnets and scooping rice and dehydrated vegetables into plastic bags. Over the next hour and a half they will pack enough bags of food to feed 35 children for an entire year. The food is headed to Haiti in a few days as part of the latest Feed My Starving Children shipment.

Feed My Starving Children (FMSC) was founded in 1987 by a Minnesota businessman who returned from a visit to Honduras determined to find a way to help starving children throughout the world. He worked with food scientists to develop a special mixture of rice, soy, vegetables, and vitamins and found the most cost-effective method - mostly involving volunteers - to get these meal packs assembled and shipped to imbedded missionaries in developing countries.

"Our food is fuel for development in a lot of these nations, and it's fuel for ministry work," says Mandi Cherico, spokesperson for Feed My Starving Children. "It's something that brings kids into school and helps them learn and concentrate. Then those kids get to grow up healthfully and, in turn, impact their entire nation."

Today, through the efforts of volunteers at permanent and mobile sites around the U.S., FMSC produces enough food to feed 420,000 children each day.

"I always think how good we have it in America and that other countries are so much more less fortunate than us," says Rachael Bell, a regular volunteer at the Schaumburg FMSC site.

Those other countries are feeling the impact of FMSC. One of Cherico's favorite stories came from one of their partners in the Philippines. "He said the food that we offer is the hub in the wheel that turns the community around. When they can feed a community well, they can get rid of at least one of their baseline struggles." And once that's gone, they can move on to things like health care or spiritual transformation in the community.

"At the heart of what we do are Jesus' words that when we feed the hungry, we are in turn blessing Him," Cherico says. Rachael agrees. "Spiritually, I feel like I have a closer relationship to God because I'm helping the poor and less fortunate. Every time I volunteer, I know I get closer to Him."

At the end of each two-hour shift, volunteers pray over the boxes they packed, and they learn where the food is headed and how many children's lives it will change. "We hear a lot of people say that the reason they love coming to FMSC is that it basically allows them to go on a missions trip without leaving their community," Cherico says.

The impact is felt when those boxes are unpacked and distributed. "Our recipients are shocked that people they don't even know would take the time to help them," Cherico shares. "And that's the gospel in action."

How to act locally, feed globally:

▶ Visit fmsc.org and see if there's a permanent FMSC site in your area where you can volunteer. If there's not one in your area, organize your church, school, or community group to request a local mobile site.

▶ Visit the Hunger Site store at  thehungersite.greatergood.com/store/ths/site  to find a wide range of fair-traded and handcrafted items from around the world, the sale of which helps these international artisans pull themselves out of poverty and the hunger cycle.

▶ Through Opportunity International, sponsor a micro-loan for a woman in a developing nation. Each loan usually costs less than $100, providing enough for her to start a business to care for herself, her family, and her community. To learn more, go to opportunity.org.

1 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations "The state of food insecurity in the world 2002." October 10, 2002, p. 9.

2 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations "The state of food insecurity in the world 2010."

3 United Nations "Resolution 7/14. The right to food." March 27, 2008, p. 3.

Camerin Courtney, a freelance writer in the Chicago area, worked a shift at Feed My Starving Children and dished up veggies at a soup kitchen as research for this article. She plans to continue these volunteer efforts.

 

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