The hunger inside – ‘Breaking bread is part of community’

By Andrea Gaines

Pretty much everyone can relate to the idea of being hungry for a few hours. But, when hunger is chronic, causes you to worry, and leaves you thinking that you are failing your family, it is referred to as food insecurity. And, it’s no joke. About 10 percent of Americans experience this on a daily basis. In Loudoun, the number is about half of that, five percent, probably because we have one of the highest incomes in the U.S.

Loudoun’s generosity towards those who might be experiencing food insecurity, though, shines brilliantly in both individual citizens and the groups organized to help. Dealing with food insecurity, or helping a friend or neighbor struggling to “make ends meet” is just something we do. Don’t just talk about it … do something about it … seems to be our motto.

Friends and family get it, and it is touching The Blue Ridge Leader conducted an informal survey to put some meat on the bones of the issue.
Nearly 100 percent of the people we surveyed had volunteered at a food bank, food pantry, or food kitchen, donated food and/or cash, or knew someone who relies on donated food regularly. “For at least two or three winter seasons,” one friend said, “we made food for 30-40 people at a County cold weather shelter. Each of us cooked for 8-10 people …Another said, “I refer patients, and have been to food banks in my line of work …” “I used to work at a soup kitchen …” said a third person … “My sister was on Food Stamps for two years … it’s basic [helping feed people] – breaking bread is a part of community.” Another beautiful soul said, “I helped on Saturdays serving lunches.  I also helped at several … pop-up food banks that served the poorest school in [my area] … Many of those students have their backpacks filled daily with food to take home …” People want to be independent, one person indicated, and, she noted she always encourages them to do all they can for themselves. But, she also said she helps people in need … just because … with no questions asked.

Generosity first meets the need, and then, multiplies

Delving into the food insecurity issue, you get a quick refresh on some of our world’s most basic teachings. This includes “The Tree of Life” analogy. The idea that we are all in this together. Loudoun’s Tree of Life (TOL) organization is a non-profit dedicated to changing the lives of the poor and needy. 

For this article, we spoke to a member of the organization’s leadership, Kristen Hickman, and got a first-hand look at their amazing work. TOL had been providing 100 meals a week at one area location. But, now, they do 300. They work through several pantries, deliver food to homebound seniors, and more. COVID has increased the need. They are supported by local churches, and enjoy the help of many, many volunteers.

Hickman made clear that her organization represents “The love of Jesus Christ in action. We do not give handouts. We give a hand up.”
This concept is key to efforts to combat food insecurity. That idea that the generosity of one person is infectious. A donation of food extends to a donation of warm clothes which extends to a feeling of increased security – holding families together, motivating someone to seek work, etc.

The need is great. So, we keep going

According to Poverty USA, women are more likely to be poor than men. Some 10 percent of seniors are poor. And, some 16 million children are poor (over 10 million, young kids).

With respect to race, Native Americans have the highest rates of poverty, at over 25 percent. About 10 percent of American households are “food insecure.” And, of course, families are far more food insecure if their income is below the Federal Poverty Level.

Government supports a myriad of programs that help people put food on the table, and interacts with tens of thousands of organizations and individuals that are also working to fill the gap.

Poverty rates and food insecurity numbers vary widely, depending on where you live. Nationwide, nearly 40 counties, including Loudoun County, have median household incomes in the $100,000 range. But, as we all know, pockets of hardship are common.

Loudoun Hunger Relief reports that in 2020, the organization “served more than 8,000 individuals through 67,000 visits, and almost half are children, [this amounts to] 1.6 million pounds of food … [help for] up to 70 families per day. During the COVID-19 crisis, LHR is supplying tens of thousands of pounds of emergency preparedness food to help families shelter in place, as well as continuing our regular food distributions each week.”

“This topic is under-discussed for our area. Most people assume all in Loudoun County are prosperous enough to buy food…like many in the middle class, and lower middle class, I’ve had periods of hardship and not enough money…Once or twice…I turned my car around and went back to give money to someone who was alongside the road, walking… I wanted them to realize their humanity was seen and recognized and respected.”

Feeding America is a national organization representing 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries. “We work to get nourishing food – from farmers, manufacturers, and retailers – to people in need,” notes the organization’s website.

Need help? You can get it.

Let us help fight food insecurity
If you have ever experienced food insecurity yourself, or found yourself wondering if that elderly neighbor, sick family member, or disadvantaged kid walking down the street is well-fed, you understand. Most of us have had an experience where we needed a little help to pay the rent or cover the utility bill. Fewer have wished they had 20 bucks for a quick trip to the grocery store. And, even fewer have ever thought, “Wow. Refrigerator is really low. Should I consider going to a food bank?”
Local government and the federal government have developed lots of programs designed to address hunger, including Food Stamps and its successor, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and school lunches.

But, as the plethora of local food banks, food pantries, food kitchens, and delivery services shows, doing something about food insecurity is not something we are inclined to wait on government for.

It is big business, and it is generous. Local agencies and non-profits that are not waiting include the Capitol Area Food Bank, Community Church Christian Ministries (with Messiah’s Market), Crossroads Methodist Church, Dulles South Food Bank and Soup Kitchen (in partnership with Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, over a dozen schools, and others), Link, Inc., the Lion’s Club, Loudoun County Catholic Charities, Loudoun Hunger Relief (and partners such as the Goose Creek Meeting), Loudoun Interfaith Relief, Middleburg Food Bank, the Salvation Army, Seven Loaves Services, Inc. (and area churches), Tree of Life, Volunteers of America, and so many more. So many more. Amazon, Google, Harris Teeter, Wegmans, Giant, and other companies are big donors to many of these organization, which literally blanket the County, from Ashburn to Purcellville to Leesburg to Middleburg to Sterling.

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