In this week full of food, think about hunger the rest of the year

By now, you’ve probably bought your turkey.

While you’re waiting for it to thaw in your fridge, you’ve either checked your pantry or gone to the supermarket to round out the rest of your Thanksgiving list. The stuffing. The cranberry sauce.

And now is the only time of year that you buy that can of French-fried onions, to sprinkle on top of your green bean casserole. I don’t know how the French-fried onion business stays in business the other 51 weeks of the year.

During the week of Thanksgiving, food is at the front of everyone’s minds. And when people start thinking about how much they have, they get to thinking about how little other people have.

So this is a big time of year when folks give to food banks, and that’s great. About one in six Georgians don’t have access to the food they need. In America, no one should have to go hungry on the week of Thanksgiving.

But, like the French-fried onion business, what happens the other 51 weeks a year?

I touched on that question when I wrote a similar column a few months ago, and one of the editors here at the paper directed me to an excerpt from a speech by singer-songwriter Harry Chapin, who before his death in 1981 probably did more to fight hunger than any other entertainer I can think of.

Here’s Harry’s take on hunger:

“Thanksgiving. Remember junior high school, high school, elementary school? ‘Everybody bring in your cans for the hungry people.’ Remember that? Just imagine if somebody – when you were in fifth, sixth grade – if the principal had the (guts) to say, on Monday:

“‘Children, it was the most single, wonderful outpouring of generosity that this school has ever seen. More cans of food, feeding 193 families, came to this school than ever before. We only have one problem, and we’re going to deal with it this coming week. We’re gonna cancel our regular classes, and what we’re gonna talk about is: What are those people gonna eat next week?’ ”

What happens to America’s hungry “next week” – and the week after that and the week after that? That’s one of the lesser-known battlegrounds of the federal Farm Bill that members of Congress are sparring over right now. It comes up for review and tweaking every five years, and a big issue invariably is food stamps, which takes up about 75 percent of the bill’s budgeting.

What far fewer people know about is the Emergency Food Assistance Program. It’s part of the Farm Bill. TEFAP was founded in 1981 to give short-term hunger relief to poor Americans at no cost. It’s a major subsidizer of food bank donations across the country. It’s means-tested, thankfully.

And while Congress has been tangled up in making sure the Farm Bill politically suits everybody, TEFAP’s donations to America’s food banks have dropped like a rock.

Do we really want this to continue? In this economy? With so many folks hanging by a thread?

Let your lawmakers know. And while we’re grabbing our congressmen by the lapels, urging them not to cut a dime from TEFAP, food banks will be scrambling more than ever to get food into the hands of the folks who need it most.

One program I particularly like would make Harry Chapin smile if he were alive today. It’s executed locally by Augusta’s Golden Harvest Food Bank, and it’s called the BackPack Program.

It targets kids who depend on free meals at school. When the final class bell rings each Friday, too many kids go home and go the whole weekend without eating. They come dragging into school the following Monday more starved for a decent meal than for knowledge.

Golden Harvest calls it the “Weekend Meal Gap.”

Teachers and counselors at various schools identify at-risk kids who likely are facing this meal gap. Golden Harvest prepares “BackPacks” of nutritious, kid-friendly foods, ready to eat, that are secretly slipped into these kids’ back packs before they leave school each Friday.

Each food pack costs $5. I won’t ask if you can afford it, because you can. Tell Golden Harvest that you can, by calling (706) 736-1199. If the BackPack Program isn’t up your charitable alley, don’t worry – Golden Harvest has tons of ways you can help someone who’s hungry.

Please make this Thanksgiving week better by allowing someone to give thanks to you, for the food or money you donate to help them from going hungry.

And let’s try to make those other 51 weeks a lot better, too.

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