by Laura Buxenbaum, MPH, RD, LDN
Hunger. Defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, hunger is a craving or urgent need for food or a specific nutrient. We have all experienced hunger. Yet, that feeling may have come because we worked through lunch, didn’t make time for breakfast, or ate dinner later than usual. But for many families across North Carolina, hunger is a constant, daily feeling brought on by a prolonged lack of food. According to Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, 1 in 7 people in North Carolina struggle with hunger, including 1 in 5 children who may not know where their next meal is coming from. Many of these individuals may be our neighbors, co-workers or our children’s classmates. For many, food insecurity is a constant; for others, it may be temporary due to job loss or other significant life changes.
To help bring awareness to food insecurity and hunger across the country, Feeding America has recognized September as Hunger Action Awareness Month: A month to spread the word and take action against hunger. All families and individuals should have access to nourishing foods, despite their circumstances. After all, the foods we eat play an important role in maintaining good health. Feeding America statistics report that food insecurity can lead to Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity. Additionally, children at risk of hunger are more likely to be in poor health and less likely to reach their academic potential. Food banks across North Carolina and the nation are helping to build the foundation for good health by supplying more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy foods and lean proteins, thus increasing access to the foods everyone needs to stay healthy throughout their lifetime.
As a Registered Dietitian, it is concerning to me that milk is one of the most requested, yet least available, items in a food bank. Milk is the top source for three of the nutrients most likely to be missing in a child’s diet- calcium, potassium and vitamin D. On average, food banks are only able to provide the equivalent of less than one gallon of milk per person, per year. However, families need more than one gallon per week to meet the United States Department of Agriculture recommendation of 3 servings for day, as outlined in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
The good news is we can all make a difference when it comes to closing the hunger gap. This month consider these ways to get involved and reduce hunger in your community.
Volunteer your time and talent. Food banks rely on volunteers to help serve those struggling with hunger. Visit feedingamerica.org to learn about local volunteer opportunities in your area.
Participate in the “10 Gallon Challenge.” This is a great activity to do with as a family. Purchase 10 gallons of milk and deliver them together to your local food bank. The gallon of milk many of us consider a staple is missing on the tables of families facing hunger.
Donate online. Fill a child’s glass with cold milk by visiting milklife.com/give. Any size donation can help deliver fresh milk to a Feeding America food bank in your community. Or visit feedingamerica.org to learn ways your family, workplace and community organizations can support food banks in your area.