Monday, February 26, 2007

On a Serious Note: The Millenium Development Goals

Neither one of us are Catholic (although Woodgie used to be one growing up), but we both decided that we would observe Lent in a small way by doing a water/juice fast on Sunday evenings in lieu of dinner, and at the end of Lent, donating the money we would have otherwise spent on meals to a church charity. We thought it would be fitting to do this, in light of both the Episcopal Church and Lutheran Church's support of the UN Millenium Development Goals.

One of the MDGs is "the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger worldwide". While we often think of poverty and hunger as far off events in foreign countries, I'm finding as a food pantry volunteer that often, poverty and hunger are as close as your next-door neighbors or your community.

Personally, I've never experienced extreme poverty or hunger for a prolonged basis, but there have been a few tight moments in my life, especially while growing up. We were a low-income farming family who managed to squeak through every year, but we never felt that we were "poor", and there was always food on the table (although there was one Thanksgiving while I was in graduate school that was pretty bleak due to a lot of bad weather and poor crops). Apart from doing a 20 mile CROP walk fundraiser in middle school, the closest I came to hunger (in the sense of deprivation) was watching "Save the Children" fund-raising appeals on TV, and those were always far away, somewhere overseas, or in Africa. Certainly not close to home.

Both my own past experiences and my current ones have made me realize until we see poverty and hunger up close, that as long as we think of it with mindsets of "it's a far-off problem" and "it can't happen here" and "it's too big a problem to be dealt with", these mindsets intimidate us and blind us to what is needed, both locally and in other countries.

Trust me, the need is there. According to the USDA (, 2007):
  • In 2005, 35.1 million Americans lived in food insecure (low food security and very low food security) households, 22.7 million adults and 12.4 million children.
  • In 2005, 55.6% of food-insecure (low food security or very low food security) households participated in at least one of the three major Federal food assistance programs Food Stamp Program, The National School Lunch Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, an increase from 55.2% in 2004.
And that was roughly two years ago.

Rather than watching it from a distance, I now see it every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoon, as families come through who need help. They may be struggling single parent families, or they may be single-income families with kids who have gone a week without groceries, or individuals who simply need help supplementing what they do have. And they are grateful, as we give them what we can give.

Granted, the Millenium Goals are ambitious in their scope, but it can start locally: doing such a small thing such as donating regularly to the local food pantry or to a local branch of Second Harvest, or volunteering time to work at one a few hours a week, or working on a Habitat for Humanity home is something positive. And it is something that can be done here and now.

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