Howard Buffett is the eldest son of billionaire businessman Warren Buffett, and for obvious reasons he has never been hungry a day in his life.
“No. I wouldn’t understand hunger,” he told CBS News, “because my kids have never been hungry. I’ve never put them to bed hungry. I’ve never been hungry. What I can understand is the humiliation, the frustration, even the embarrassment of some people who have to walk into a food bank for the first time and ask for help.”
Howard Buffett serves on a lot of companies’ boards of directors and conservation philanthropies. But he’s also a farmer. And as he visited food banks throughout the Midwest, he saw a disturbing picture: people living amid some of the most fertile farmland in the world – and not getting enough to eat.
So he approached Feeding America, a national hunger charity, and Archer Daniels Midland, the food processing giant, with an idea – the Invest an Acre program.
About 80,000 farmers use processing plants run by Archer Daniels Midland. If each farmer volunteered to donate the profits from at least one acre of their crop land, that money could go to Feeding America food pantries to fund meals for people in desperate need.
If an acre of corn yields, say, $100, that $100 could pay for an estimated 800 people to eat. Multiply that out to the maximum, and pretty soon you’re funding an army to fight hunger.
What a brilliant idea.
“I don’t think the level of hunger in this country is acceptable. Not for the kind of society that we are,” Buffett said. “It is absolutely not acceptable.”
Closer to home, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens kicked off a great charity initiative earlier this year. Apparently, when he wasn’t busy fighting for open government and better sunshine laws for Georgia journalists (thanks, Sam!), he was challenging lawyers across the state to donate money or food to the Georgia Legal Food Frenzy, to help the state’s seven regional food banks. Golden Harvest Food Bank in Augusta is one of them.
How did it turn out? In its first year, law firms, legal organizations and Georgia’s five law schools amassed 612,497 pounds of food to give to the hungry.
Of course, not all of us can fight hunger on that scale. We can’t all be Sam Olens. We can’t all be Howard Buffett (although occasionally I wouldn’t mind being Jimmy Buffett).
But when you think about it, we use – on a much smaller scale – the same methods Buffett and Olens employ.
When I drop my kids off at their school, sometimes there are boxes at the entrances waiting to be filled with whatever food donations the kids can bring from home. There are similar boxes at our church – and our church isn’t the only one. A lot of places of worship around the CSRA have thriving ministries devoted to feeding the hungry.
We give based on what we have. You may not have profits to give away from an acre of farmland, but I’ll bet you have a couple of cans of food or boxes of pasta that you can part with and donate to a food bank.
Why bring up all of this now? For the same reason the Legal Food Frenzy timed the ending of its drive in May – just before the start of summer.
Most people traditionally think that holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas are the biggest times of need each year for food banks, and to a degree they’re right.
But when summer begins, many reliable food donors leave town on their vacations. Also, food drives usually occur during the school year, so those pipelines of donations dry up.
On top of that, the kids who qualify for free or reduced-priced school lunches too often have to turn to food banks for meals when school is out.
One in six Georgians don’t have access to adequate food.
If you’re reading this column over breakfast, please think about what you can do to make sure someone else has lunch or dinner.