When I was a kid, Thanksgiving meant stuffing myself beyond the point of comfort, flitting gleefully between turkey, casseroles, sweet potatoes, dinner rolls, and of course pie. The object was to eat to the point of needing to loosen the belt, and then wait a few hours until there was room to start all over again with leftovers. As a young person, I had a vague sense that my family and I came together during Thanksgiving with the expressed purpose of showing our gratitude for each other and for food on the table. Mostly, I was just thankful for the pie.
Now, as an adult with a family of my own, I wonder – how can I raise my children to be thankful not just for the meal in front of them, but also for our broader community and the people who are working day-in and day-out to make Northern Virginia such a great place to live?
It starts with an understanding of the challenges that our community faces. I was surprised to learn that right here in Alexandria, there are 3,470 children who are at risk of going hungry every day. That’s one out of every 7 kids who might not have enough to eat today, and tomorrow, and the day after that.
It’s easy to assume that childhood hunger is just a problem in big cities or in very rural parts of the state, but the fact is that food insecurity is a growing problem in the suburbs too. A recent report by Virginia Fair Share says that the number of children newly eligible for free- or reduced-cost school lunch programs is rising much more quickly in the suburbs than in urban areas, rural areas or small- or mid-sized towns. In short: in the wake of the 2008 economic crash, we are seeing the new face of childhood hunger in America.
Any number of children struggling with food insecurity is a problem — no kid should go hungry — but that problem could be so much worse if it wasn’t for the outstanding local anti-hunger organizations and the federal policies that are successfully reaching families in the greatest need. ALIVE! (Alexandrians Involved Ecumenically) does incredible work that we should all be thankful for; every month their staff and volunteers provided 5-day supplies of fresh produce and foods to about 600 families through their Last Saturday Food Distribution program. Federal programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) help more than 47 million Americans afford a nutritious diet in typical month; 70 percent of SNAP participants are part of families with children.
These programs are making a difference. Although poverty overall remains a key national concern, a recent report by the group Half in Ten found that the number or children in poverty is on the decline. That’s in large part because of anti-poverty and anti-hunger programs that work. And that’s something we can surely be thankful for.
If you haven’t already, contact ALIVE! at www.alive-inc.org and sign up to volunteer.
Small is the program director for Virginia Fair Share Education Fund, a nonprofit grassroots field and advocacy group, working to make sure everyone gets, pays, and does their fair share; and plays by the same rules. Find out more at http://www.fairshareonline.org/edfund.