It’s five o’clock on a school night, and the cupboards are stripped bare. A mother scans her cupboard shelves, hoping in vain that she overlooked something – a stray bag of dried lentils or a can of chicken soup. She steps back a few minutes later with empty hands. Her children are eligible for free lunches at school and so haven’t become hungry enough to ask for food yet, but she knows that they will soon. She herself opted out of lunch, rationalizing that the money she would make in the hour was worth a few hours of hunger. But now, facing the empty shelves, the pangs she feels take on a greater intensity. She worked all day to feed her children, but the shelves are bare and payday a week away – so what can she do?
Hunger is a real and serious problem in America. In my home state of Washington, one in eight people lack the food needed to fulfill basic nutritional needs. The statistics are even worse for children; according to an October 2017 report by Northwest Harvest, one in five Washingtonian children live in a family that struggles to put food on the table. Between 2008 and 2011, the number of hungry families in the state skyrocketed from 88,000 to 163,000. These statistics are made more frustrating by the fact that the vast majority of working-age Washingtonians who grapple with poverty are actively working or looking for work. Despite working long hours and putting in Herculean efforts, many parents are left unable to provide for their children’s basic nutritional needs and give up their own meals to feed their families. Like the mother above, they are left in the frustrating position of coming home from a long day of work, only to be met by an empty pantry.
Hunger and its frequent companion, homelessness, is a widespread and complex issue that can’t be solved in a day. Rather, these issues will require close collaboration between communities and lawmakers to ensure that hardworking parents have the means and opportunity to provide for their children. However, this process will likely be years in the making and will not solve our real and present need. In the meantime, soup kitchens can help alleviate some of the burden that providers like the mother in the opening scenario face. Food banks and charity kitchens are vital to every community; Northwest Harvest reports that one in six Washington residents – well over a million people total – rely on their local food bank for sustenance. We need to come together as community members to aid those who struggle with hunger.
In the past few months, my family and I have taken strides to help fight the hunger epidemic in Washington. In late December, we held a dinner at the Renton Salvation Army Food Bank in Seattle. By the end of the night, we had fed over 200 people. We look forward to doing our part to end hunger in America by supporting more events in the upcoming months.