Hunger Hits Home: 6 Inspiring People Who Are Fighting Hunger

Published on April 11 2012 - 4:00 PM
Hunger Hits Home: 6 People Who Are Fighting Hunger

Once again, FN Dish (Food Network's food blog) has invited food bloggers from around the country to "pull up a chair" to their virtual Communal Table. This time, we're focusing on an issue hitting so close to home: hunger. See what our friends are bringing to the Communal Table discussion below and join us in the conversation about fighting hunger on Twitter by using the hashtag: #PullUpAChair.

Fighting hunger in America is no small task and there are thousands of dedicated people working every day to end this crisis, which affects one in six people in this country. Here, we’ve highlighted 6 people, including both well-known celebrities and local community heroes, we’ve profiled in EatingWell Magazine for their work making a difference for the millions of Americans struggling with hunger.

Lauren Bush-Lauren (pictured), niece of George W. Bush, co-founded FEED Projects after traveling with the World Food Program (WFP) and witnessing the need for funds and hunger awareness. “I thought creating a ‘FEED bag’— made of the same burlap as the WFP’s food drop bags—would be a compelling and tangible way for people to connect with the fight against hunger,” says the designer, who has fashion in the family—her husband is David Lauren, son of Ralph Lauren. Built into the cost of each bag is a donation tied to the number of people the purchase aids. The FEED 1 bag ($60) provides a year of school meals for one child in Africa. To date, sales have provided more than 68 million meals worldwide. How you can help: Buy a FEED bag and other products at feedprojects.com.

Jeff Bridges, Academy Award-winning actor and longtime hunger advocate, is dedicated to helping Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign to end childhood hunger. “More than 17 million children in the U.S. don’t receive the food they need to lead healthy, active lives. But our kids aren’t hungry because we lack food… our children are hungry because we’ve lacked a big-picture strategy to connect them to the nutritious food they need to grow and thrive.” No Kid Hungry helps eligible children and families enroll in food assistance programs, such as school breakfast, and teaches families to cook healthy, affordable meals. How you can help: Organize a bake sale, take the No Kid Hungry Pledge or donate at NoKidHungry.org.

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Sheryl Crow, Grammy Award-winning singer, united with Feeding America, the largest collection of food banks in America, because “it is so important for everyone across the country to dare to be conscious and aware of the struggles of those around them.” Feeding America provides food to more than 37 million people each year, via member food banks and independent agencies. How you can help: Visit feedingamerica.org to donate, start a virtual food drive and more, or call (800) 771-2303.

Anna Chan, also known as The Lemon Lady (her blogging moniker), has combined two old-fashioned concepts—gleaning produce and doing good. Chan, who lives in Clayton, an East Bay suburb in Northern California, is on a one-woman campaign to feed the hungry in her community. The determined do-gooder, who grew up hungry herself, started asking neighbors if she could harvest their excess crops and the response was overwhelmingly positive. She has given away more than 300 tons of produce in the past three years. She also forages farmers’ markets for free surplus edibles. She hauls the bounty in the family car to local food banks and pantries. Similar food-foraging efforts are sprouting across the country, such as The Portland Fruit Tree Project in Oregon. There are also growing numbers of groups like the Vermont Foodbank Gleaning Program that donate surplus from farms. The premise behind these volunteer missions is much the same: sharing abundance with people in need creates good will and good dinners. If you or a friend or neighbor has excess produce to donate, check out neighborhoodfruit.com, a site that helps backyard farmers find good homes for their excess bounty. You can keep up with Anna’s efforts at thelemonlady.blogspot.com.

Barbara Eiswerth was working on her Ph.D. in the poverty-stricken villages of Malawi, Africa, in the late 1990s and witnessed extreme hunger firsthand. After returning home to Tucson, Arizona, she was overwhelmed by how her neighbors’ abundant fruit trees dropped fresh pecans, figs and grapefruits, only to rot on the sidewalk. “Thousands of trees are using the land, the soil, the nutrients, the precious water to grow fruit and then it goes to waste,” the vivacious, bright-eyed Eiswerth says. Remembering the impoverished villages of Malawi, Eiswerth launched a new project through the Tucson Youth Work Enhancement program in 2002, where teens from a local high school learned about food resources. They mapped 162 homes with 296 fruit-producing trees, then collected the unwanted fruit and redistributed it in local farmers’ markets and to soup kitchens. A year later, Eiswerth met Bantu refugees from Somalia who had just immigrated to Tucson. She began volunteering to help these families create roots in their new country. “How do you become a new American without ever making an American friend?” she asks. It was then that inspiration struck: the high school students could help the refugees learn English, the Somali Bantu would share their native harvesting expertise with the students, and cross-cultural ties would be created within the community. The fruit-collecting project flourished into the nonprofit Iskashitaa Refugee Network.

Eiswerth recalls a moment Somali Bantu boys unexpectedly grabbed mesquite beans off a tree and started chewing them. “We were taken aback at first,” she says. “But they knew they were sweet and nutritious.” Rich in iron, zinc, magnesium, potassium and calcium, mesquite beans were a “famine food,” used for nourishment during times of true hunger or starvation. Today, volunteers collect nearly 75,000 pounds of excess fruit a year in Tucson and provide it to hungry families. More information at www.iskashitaa.org.

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Sister Alice Marie Quinn’s charitable, celebrity food truck Cart for a Cause dishes up $10 set menus almost every Tuesday around Los Angeles, prepared and served by a rotating cast of celebrity chefs, including Nobu Matsuhisa and Alex Becker (Nobu) and Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo (the restaurant Animal). Top Chef winner Ilan Hall has made his Welsh rarebit and former Food Network chef Susan Feniger has whipped up her Vietnamese pulled-pork sandwiches. The location changes weekly, too: Twitter (@CartForACause) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/CartForACause) feeds tell the Cart’s nearly 2,000 followers where to find lunch. Some of the chefs have been surprised by the turnout. Says Dotolo, "It was raining and people were standing there waiting. For the charity and for us. For both."

The cart’s proceeds go to St. Vincent Meals on Wheels of Los Angeles, which Quinn founded in 1978 and is now the largest privately funded Meals on Wheels in the country. Quinn is incredibly grateful for the donations, even though the iconoclastic chefs can sometimes bring out the strict nun in the otherwise affable sister. "I had to say to one guy," she says, recalling his low-riding jeans, "if you don’t pull up your pants, I’m going to leave."

Photo Credit: FEED Projects

See what our friends are bringing to the Communal Table discussion below and join us in the conversation about fighting hunger on Twitter by using the hashtag: #PullUpAChair.

FN Dish: 4 Ways to Take Action Against Childhood Hunger Today
EatingWell: 6 Inspiring People Who Are Fighting Hunger
BlogHer Food:
Poor Girl on SNAP: Using EBT at the Farmers' Market
Food52:
A Day in the Life at Share Our Strength
GMA.com:
Fight Hunger With These 5 Charities
Cooking Channel:
Join the Great American Bake Sale
Food Republic:
Joining Bloggers to Take on Hunger
YumSugar:
5 Ways to Fight World Hunger Beyond Donating Money
Eatocracy: Focus on Hunger

Michelle is the digital editor for EatingWell Media Group. She puts her background in journalism to work online at EatingWell.com and in EatingWell Magazine, authoring the Good Questions interview with interesting people in the world of food and health.