By Barb Arland-Fye
“Eat your peas. There are starving children in Africa,” American mothers through the years have admonished their well-fed children. But, some of us wondered: How can eating one’s peas benefit a malnourished child in a foreign country thousands of miles away? Mom was simply conveying a message: be appreciative for the food we have available to eat.
In today’s still-lurching economy, hunger remains a serious problem at home as well as overseas. During the regular school year, nearly 21 million children from low-income households get free and reduced-price meals at school through the USDA’s National School Lunch Program. But when school doors close for the summer, fewer than 3 million children are fed through the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program, reports Janey Thornton, deputy undersecretary for the U.S. Food Nutrition and Consumer Services.
She says we need to redouble our efforts to ensure that children who need the summer food service program have access to it. A couple of suggestions for helping: conduct community outreach with the National Hunger Hotline: 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-HAMBRE; volunteer at a food service program site; visit www.endhunger.usda.gov for more information.
Children aren’t the only victims of hunger, of course. Farm workers — individuals who work in the sweltering outdoors so we have plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables on our dinner tables — don’t have enough on theirs. The Department of Labor reports that the poverty rate among farm workers is 60 percent; 75 percent of them earn less than $10,000 per year. With such modest incomes, workers cannot afford to purchase the fruit of their labor.
For Catholics, this is a moral tragedy and a situation that demands justice, says the Justice, Peace and Human Development Department of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. These social justice advocates invite Catholics to “fast” on Friday, Aug. 5 (the first Friday in August), by limiting meal spending to the amount allotted for a family of their size in the USDA Modified Thrifty Food Plan, which is used as the basis for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called food stamps). You can find that amount for your family at the USDA website.
The fast is part of a “First Fridays for Food Security” project that runs through April 6, 2012, and is intended to increase our awareness of hunger and provide additional funding for hunger-fighting efforts.
To make more of this experience, subtract the cost of the meals from what you ordinarily spend for meals and donate the remainder to a local feeding program for children, shut-ins, elderly, or a homeless shelter.
“Voluntary fasting from food creates in us a greater openness to God’s Spirit and deepens our compassion for those who are forced to go without food,” the U.S. bishops note in “Penitential Practices for Today’s Catholics (2000).”
The USCCB has created a Facebook event page — First Fridays for Food Security — inviting comments on experiences with this form of solidarity. Mom’s admonition about gratitude is being parlayed into a worthy hunger-fighting effort that deserves our consideration. Eat your peas, there are starving children in Africa is an all-to-true reality.