The trendy thing in the nonprofit sector right now is to define “ending hunger” as bringing about a future in which nobody (or hardly anybody) is ever at risk of hunger or food insecurity, which basically means eliminating poverty. While we would love to see that happen, our first concern is with the fact that there are tens of millions of people in need of food assistance across the United States right now, and there is no reason to believe that that will change in the foreseeable future.
Therefore, what WE mean by “ending hunger” is that whenever anyone in the community experiences a time of need, they are able to access adequate, appropriate, and timely food assistance.
Let’s take those key terms apart a little bit, and see what this means in practice:
time of need – While some people may need food assistance on a long-term basis, such as senior citizens on a fixed income, people with chronic health conditions, and workers with low-wage jobs, the majority of people who are hungry or food insecure at any given moment are only temporarily in that condition, and will likely be back on their feet within four to six months – especially if they can get the support they need in the meantime.
able – If people cannot make the trip to where food assistance is available, that assistance might as well not exist. Sometimes the solution involves finding another way of bringing people to food, sometimes of bringing food to people. We also need to avoid creating other barriers to access, such as excessively invasive intake processes.
adequate – When a family seeks assistance from a food pantry, they need to be given enough food to meet their anticipated needs until their next visit. Many families are only relying on the charitable food system for part of their diet, but if a food pantry is providing all of a family’s food, this means about four pounds per person per day.
appropriate – People’s diets are shaped by many factors, including health needs, religious or ideological prohibitions, cultural traditions, cooking facilities, and personal preferences; and it does no good to give someone food that they cannot or will not use. The easiest and most respectful solution is to let people receiving assistance pick out their own food from as wide a selection as possible.
timely – Food is an urgent need – if your family needs food now, and your local food pantry is not open for another five days, or is only open while you’re at work, that is a real problem. To end hunger, we need to ensure that there is always a way for someone with an urgent need (or an unusual schedule) to access food assistance.