Back when today’s parents were children they were told, “Eat your broccoli, there are children starving in China.” Forty years later, replace China with Africa and the saying is still the same. Why doesn’t anyone ever say, “Eat your broccoli, there are children starving in America?”
One in six Americans experience hunger, according to Feeding America, a hunger-relief charity. I could spoon-feed you facts and numbers that will soon be forgotten, but the important thing to remember is that people right here in America — men, women and especially, children — are food insecure, meaning they struggle to get enough healthy food to eat on a regular basis.
How do Jewish teens factor into the appalling reality I’ve described? Nearly 80 BBYO teens took a stand against hunger in November 2013. Students from across North American gathered in Detroit for the event, “Hunger is Not a Game: A Teen Issue Summit on Hunger Awareness and Advocacy.” I was one of four teen coordinators of the summit. We created resources and developed programs to inform, teach and impact our participants throughout the three-day program.
How can you stand up to hunger in your own community? How can a Jewish teen make a difference and help those in need? Here are some helpful tips.
Know the Reality
It is important to understand what being food insecure, or experiencing, hunger means. Someone who is hungry does not necessarily look like a homeless person pushing a shopping cart down the street. I was on assisted food living (similar to food stamps) in a wealthy neighborhood for six years. Fortunately, this was not my family’s only means of obtaining food, but the aid was never something we took for granted. Eventually, we became completely food secure. My personal experience made advocating and working for this cause real. To combat hunger in your neighborhood, know what hunger truly is and who actually suffers from it.
Make Service Exciting and Meaningful
Think about ways to connect with your greater community to make a tangible difference. At “Hunger is Not a Game” we teamed up with three of Detroit’s leading food banks: Yad Ezra, Forgotten Harvest and Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan. These organizations provided outlets for us to sort cans of food and package donations. We toured Gleaners Community Food Bank and saw the thousands of pounds of food we assembled and that made our community service meaningful. If you can see the fruits of your labor you will feel motivated to do well and make a big impact.
Walk a Mile in Their Shoes
You will be equipped to address an issue when you can empathize with someone’s struggle. This is the best way to address the issue of hunger. During the summit my coordinators and I set up simulations to expose people to the realities of hunger in America. One example was the BBYO hosted Oxfam America Hunger Banquet. Participants were assigned annual income amounts to give them an idea of what a meal looks like on that salary level.
The highest income started at $6,300; the middle ranged between $1,128 and $6,300; and the lowest income level was $1,128 a year, about $3.09 a day. The high-income group received a full plate of food; the middle-income group received two side dishes; and the low-income group only received rice — without a fork. The low-income group was instructed to first feed the men and then the women because in much of the world this is a woman’s reality. Simulations like these make the issue feel real and create passionate participants. Connect with Oxfam America about hosting a Hunger Banquet or find out about MAZON’s Paper Plate Campaign. MAZON is a national Jewish organization dedicated to fighting hunger.
Hunger, like so many issues, isn’t easy to fix. That’s why it remains a pressing issue. But if we all do our part in our own communities, we can do wonders for our larger community. Jewish teens have immense amounts of power — it’s time we use it.