March is National Nutrition Month, sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, so it seems like the perfect opportunity to write about one of my favorite topics – food.
Food: Seeing and meeting a need
Yet, this year, two stark realities make all the rest of the potential subjects – Lenten practices, culinary secrets, family togetherness at meals – seem less important. And those are hunger (not having enough food) and food insecurity (not having access to or enough resources to obtain food), which have both become more acute during the pandemic.
According to Catholic Charities USA, the number of people thought to experience hunger in 2020 was estimated to grow from 37 to 50 million, and the number of children with food insecurity was estimated to have grown from more than 11 million to more than 17 million.
Adults living in poverty can be especially hard hit by hunger, but the nonprofit Feeding America reports that households with children are more likely to experience food insecurity, and no community is without people who are hungry, including those in rural areas and suburbia.
Although data are still being analyzed, the pandemic has deepened the presence of hunger and food insecurity among the elderly, homebound and others in diverse socioeconomic backgrounds whose financial resources have been depleted.
Many experiencing hardship and isolation for the first time may not want or know how to ask for help but the need remains.
Besides personal circumstances that can lead to lack of food, the harsh weather of the past 12 months, including hurricanes, freezing temperatures and winter storms, has made transport of food a sometimes-sporadic endeavor, especially for rural areas. And, our forced isolation this past year has made it difficult to interact with and discern the acute needs of our neighbors.
If I were to challenge myself to answer, "Am I sure that everyone in my apartment building will have enough food every day?" I would have to say, "I am not sure."
But I want to find out!
Indeed, attention to our local situation is one of the first steps we can take to help those who are experiencing hunger. Although we might feel uneasy about "prying" into our neighbors' lives, kind concern might help us determine who might need help and how we can assist.
Sharing of our own bounty can be done in various ways, even anonymously. A few times during the lockdown, people have left canned or unopened boxed goods near our building's mailboxes, along with a note: "Take what you need." The food items always disappear, a sign that, although we may not see it, need is probably nearby.
Beyond our own backyard, efforts through parishes and other faith-based organizations such as Catholic Charities have long served to meet the local needs of the hungry. With the increased numbers during the pandemic, many such services and the people who run them have been stretched beyond their available resources.
Our assistance, whether in person (masked, of course) or by donation of food or money with which to buy food is needed more than ever. And, beyond Lent, making a habit of extending kindness to others experiencing food insecurity will also be important; the effects of the pandemic on family economies will probably take awhile to resolve.
With so many more people experiencing food insecurity and hunger in our communities, identifying needs close to home and how to help seems much more pertinent than anything else I could write about concerning nutrition. The spiritual food that enriches us during Lent, that sustains our spirits, also encourages action – so all may be fed.
Pratt's website is www.maureenpratt.com.