Hunger Doesn't Take a Holiday

Hunger Doesn't Take a Holiday

Hunger arrived on my doorstep the other day. At first, I didn't recognize it. Instead, what I saw was a common occurrence around here: A posse of lanky teen boys piling into my house. There were sneakers resembling longboards to kick off and backpacks as heavy as several bricks to off load. And there were snacks—or afternoon tea as we like to say around here, in a nod to the homeland—to be wolfed down.

One of the perks of working from home is that I usually take a break to feed these ravenous adolescents who have come to expect something will show up on the table, whether it's simply tea and toast, a platter of fruit, or tropical smoothies. I know, they should fend for themselves. But I like nourishing these growing lads.

On this particular day I was puttering around the kitchen before getting to the task at hand. That's when my son sidled up to me and said in a hushed tone so that none of his pals would hear: "Mum, 'Joe' complained of stomach pains on the way home from school and said he hadn't eaten breakfast since yesterday morning."

I wanted to hug my boy then and there, which any parent of a 14-year-old knows is not the way to endear yourself to your kid in front of his peers. There was no judgment attached or drama evoked, his simple message to me: My friend is famished. Get on it.

And so I did. Apple chunks and raspberries went immediately onto the table, then I topped salt and pepper bagels with ricotta cheese, little gem lettuces, and plum tomatoes I had slow roasted earlier that day. Everyone dug in the second they were ready.

Whether this boy's family, who have struggled to make ends meet, didn't have enough money for groceries, forgot to shop, or served food he didn't want to eat, I don't know.

All I knew was hunger showed up at my home. And I felt compelled to make it go away.

Footnote: In Alameda County, where I live, one in six residents visits the Alameda County Community Food Banks' 275 food pantries, soup kitchens, senior centers, after-school programs, shelters, or other community agencies where food is distributed. In 2011, the Food Bank distributed 20.9 million pounds of food – 54 percent of it fresh fruits and vegetables. The agency serves some 49,000 people each month and the lingering recession has resulted in the emergence of the so-called  "new face of hunger".

How to help? Best bets for pantry staple donations include lean sources of protein like tuna in water, peanut butter, or dried or canned beans, since protein costs more for food banks to purchase. Whole grains, low-sodium soups, and low-sugar cereals are also good choices. Expired cans, food-like substances loaded with ingredients you can't pronounce, or junk food don't belong in can collection drives. (Nor do snorkels, library books, or clothing -- all of which have landed in food bank barrels at one time or another. Go figure.)

Oh, and come January, when people are still in need, volunteers and cash contributions -- both of which are key to the success of food banks like ACCFB -- tend to drop off. Food for thought as we head into the biggest eating holiday of the year and for those already thinking about a New Year's resolution.

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