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Solving Hunger $1 and 7 Meals at a Time

Monday, June 15, 2015 5:57 pm

Today I woke up to a text from a dear friend who probably sensed that I needed some encouragement. Thank God for all the people with a knack for that.

She sent me this quote:

“If you don’t like the way the world is, change it. You have an obligation to change it. You just do it one step at a time.” – Marian Wright Edelman, lifelong advocate for disadvantaged Americans.

As the winner of the DoSomething challenge, I am blessed to be in a position to do so. But before I go into the details of my plan to help fix a broken hunger relief system, I would be remiss if I didn’t first explain why change is necessary.

There are 50 million food insecure Americans. Some people debate the definition of food insecurity, but even the strictest definitions fail to bring that number down to a comprehensible level. Of these 50 million Americans, 16 million are kids who go to school more concerned about their growling stomach than their growing mind.

North Carolina is certainly no exception. There are enough food insecure North Carolineans to fill the Panthers’ 75,000 seat stadium…25 times. And it’s closer to home than we think. 1 in 6 people in Forsyth County are food insecure. Worse yet, 1 in 4 kids.

So it’s clear that hunger in America is real, but it’s also important to acknowledge that it looks different here than it does in other parts of the world. Provost Rogan Kersh’s work on the hunger/obesity paradox — the idea that the most affordable food is also the most unhealthy food, that a kid’s lunch might be potato chips and her dinner from the dollar menu — helps us make sense of how we got to this point where the children being born today are the first generation in American history with a shorter life expectancy than their parents. All of this is why I do most of my work here from the Burger King on Reynolda, just a few minutes away from the WFU campus. I think of those kids.

(Admittedly, I also appreciate the quiet dining area, reliable Wifi, and am consistently impressed with their veggie burger.)

So we understand the problem. Now what do we do about it? In the spirit of Ms. Edelman, I’ve spent a lot of time grappling with other proposed solutions in order to know what others have tried and why they have failed. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is this: hunger relief charities are tiny in scale compared to the problem that they’re up against. Growth is necessary, and it won’t happen without money.

I applaud churches and schools that run well-intended food drives, but I also think it’s time to reluctantly blow the whistle; donating food that is damaged, unhealthy, and/or expired is not helpful. Money, however, is different. If I went into the grocery store with $1, I couldn’t buy anything of significant nutritional value. I couldn’t even buy Goobers. But if you give the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina $1, they can turn it into 7 healthy meals. This is because of the national network of Feeding America, their efficient distribution system, their volunteer labor, and the fact that they buy food in massive quantities. $1 –> 7 healthy meals.

Given this information, I could donate the $10,000 I was awarded from the DoSomething challenge and quickly create 70,000 meals (assuming constant returns to scale). This sounds more impressive than it really is. I could feed the hungry population of Forsyth County (61,000) once. But we have 50 million Americans that need breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. It all points to the need for dramatically larger sums of money to pour in through an innovative fundraising campaign.

Imagine you sit down at your favorite local restaurant and notice a display on your table that confronts you with 3 facts:

– 1 in 6 people in Forsyth County are hungry.

– 1 in 4 kids in Forsyth County are hungry.

– With a $1 donation, you could help create 7 healthy meals.

You, and everyone else fortunate enough to eat there, are then given the option to add $1 onto your check. After a month of hosting the campaign, the restaurant makes a tax-deductible donation to the food bank in the amount that their customers have pledged — so everyone wins. This is the power of microgiving: local citizens eating at local restaurants to empower local charities, $1 and 7 meals at a time.


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