September is Hunger Action Month, spotlighting hunger and food insecurity. Forty million people in America are food insecure, including 2.4 million in New York. Long Island is home to some of the wealthiest ZIP codes in this country, yet we have 145,300 children who take advantage of free or reduced meals at school to supplement meals they may not get at home.
Children without access to consistent, nutritious meals suffer. Their focus isn’t always on learning but worrying about their next meal. Most kids don’t understand why eating healthy is essential. Not all adults know that improper nutrition affects a child’s ability to pay attention, learn, grow and thrive.
Hunger is avoidable and solvable. But, understanding it is the first step.
Hunger is not a result of laziness; there are numerous root causes. Our so-called living wages are not living wages at all; you can’t pay rent, buy food, and take care of your car and your children on a low hourly wage. Exacerbating hunger are racial and health inequities; language, transportation, child care, and education barriers; areas where residents lack access to affordable food; and the region’s high cost of living.
Island Harvest Food Bank works with more than 400 nonprofit agencies supporting over 300,000 Long Islanders annually. Like most food banks across the country, it changed its business model this past year to support the surging demand for food created by the pandemic. We helped twice the number of people seeking help by holding mass food distributions and developing innovative programs to meet the sudden need.
Island Harvest has also realigned its vision to address root causes of poverty and then act on them. But we all need to do more.
You can start by contributing funds, lending your professional skills, volunteering to do a food collection in your neighborhood, and even sorting food. If you are interested in advocacy, find out what important legislation is pending and which legislators you should contact to advocate.
Island Harvest supports the expanded child care tax credit, which has reduced financial anxiety for the parents of 61 million children. We support the Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021 so that all children have access to consistent nutritious meals in school.
These recommendations will help transition people from food insecurity to being healthy, active, and productive members of our society, which benefits us all.
This guest essay reflects the views of Randi Shubin Dresner, chief executive of Island Harvest Food Bank.