“How far you go in life depends on you being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these.” — George Washington Carver
We live in a bountiful place, a county whose Mediterranean climate primes the economic engine of cattle ranching and family farms that can yield four to five crops of fresh veggies a year.
We drive nice cars, live in nice houses, enjoy good schools and, thankfully, have a low crime rate. Small wonder Oprah and others think this is the Happiest Place in America; by all outward appearances, that seems to be the case. But, as Jonathan Swift famously noted: “Nothing is so hard for those who abound in riches as to conceive how others can be in want.”
And want we have in our little slice of paradise. We have a homeless population that’s thought to be around 4,000 people, with half of those being children younger than 18.
We also have some 40,000 people — with about 18,000 of those being children — who are hungry, or, in bureaucratese, “food insecure”: They don’t know where or how a day or a week’s worth of meals will be scraped together.
And the numbers keep growing. Two years ago, the Food Bank Coalition was helping supplement food needs for 24,000 county residents. Now, as noted, that number is around 40,000 as the economy continues to stagnantly tread water.
The good folks at the Food Bank work with 219 nonprofit partners (up from 114 agencies in 2005) through programs such as Harvest Bag and Farm to Family in distributing fresh, locally grown produce.
The Food Bank oversees Senior Brown Bag and Healthy Food for Local Families programs, as well as running the BackPack Program, which sends healthy food home with schoolchildren so they’ll have something nutritious to eat on weekends.
This summer, the Food Bank — partnering with the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club and People’s Self-Help Housing — is providing 50,000 summer lunches and snacks through a program called Lovin’ Lunch Box. So the battle is engaged.
But those of you who think hunger, malnutrition or food insecurity don’t have an effect on you and your life here on the Central Coast, consider some of the costs of hunger on children that we will bear down the road:
Hungry children have poorer physical and mental health, which leads to falling behind in school, which makes it twice as likely they’ll have to repeat a grade and three times as likely to be suspended from school. Dropout rates are greater, which means millions of dollars in lost wages, which means less opportunity for becoming a contributing member of our society.
Depression? Anxiety? Loss of self-esteem? All of these have been found to be bitter seeds that have sown expanding youth and adult prison populations.
According to a study conducted by combined researchers at the Harvard University School of Public Health, Brandeis and Loyola universities, we — you, me and the rest of taxpaying Americans — spend more than $90 billion a year on direct and indirect hunger-related costs.
That breaks down to each of us paying $300 a year; or households paying $800 a year; or an individual’s lifetime bill of about $22,000. Bottom line? Hunger is as much a social issue as it is an economic issue.
Toward that end, Friday is the Food Bank’s Hunger Awareness Day. One dollar per person in this bountiful county of some 260,000 souls is the fundraising goal. Community collection sites will be open from Nipomo to Paso Robles; each Rabobank branch in the county will receive your donation.
Of course the greater the gift, the greater the benefit, but, as Mother Teresa once said, “If you can’t feed 100 people, then feed just one.”
Toward that end, a $1 donation can be leveraged by the Food Bank into 10 pounds of food or seven nutritious meals, with some 6 million pounds of food being distributed this year by the bank.
For those of you who would like to donate directly to the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County, send checks to P.O. Box 2070, Paso Robles, CA 93447 or donate online by going to www.slofoodbank.org.
Join me in supporting the Food Bank Coalition’s mission. Donate generously if you can. But remember, just one buck, less than a third of a cent a day over the course of a year, is all it takes to support those neighbors who can use some compassion right about now.
Where to donate
One Day, One Dollar donation sites:
Paso Robles: Food4Less, Scolari’s and Walmart
Atascadero: Albertsons, Food4Less and Kmart
Cambria: Cambria Drug
Cayucos: Post Office
Los Osos: Ralphs
San Luis Obispo: First Bank, Food4Less and New Frontiers
Arroyo Grande: Albertsons and Doc Burnstein’s
Grover Beach: Vons
Bill Morem can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 781-7852.