By Al Brislain
President & CEO
Harry Chapin Food Bank
Nine-year-old Amanda stood quietly in line with her mother and baby brother, perspiration matting the hair around her face. The family had been waiting for an hour outside a Collier County elementary school for the one thing they needed most: food.
Amanda and her family’s challenges are all too common. Her father works, but he doesn’t earn enough to feed the family consistently. Many months, the family has to choose between paying bills and buying food. Sometimes, Amanda confessed, she gives her parents her small allowance so the family can buy food.
Amanda’s story resonates with us at the Harry Chapin Food Bank as we and our partners mark Hunger Action Month in September by raising awareness, advocating for those we serve and asking for your support.
Hunger has firmly taken hold in our community. We finished our fiscal year on June 30 having distributed 2.4 million pounds of food, valued at more than $4 million, to our neighbors in need in Collier County. Many of them received food through partner agencies that operate pantries, soup kitchens and other programs. Still more were helped through the food bank’s mobile pantries.
Even with the rebounding economy, the number of people we help feed remains startlingly high. More than 30,000 people turn to us and our network of 150 partner agencies in Southwest Florida for emergency food each month — and 12,000 of them are children like Amanda and her brother.
Each month, we are challenged to meet this demand and to plan for future demands. We may be seeing fewer unemployed families in mobile pantry lines, but we are seeing more and more families like Amanda’s who have members who are employed, yet are having a hard time making ends meet.
A longer-term concern is hunger among senior citizens. AARP estimates that senior hunger will triple in the next 10 years. The demographics of those needing our services will continue to change; however, the vast majority of our clients will continue to be those most at-risk: children, seniors, the physically and mentally challenged, and the homeless.
Hunger Action Month is an opportunity for our community to make a real impact in the lives of Amanda, her family and thousands of other Southwest Florida families we and our partners help every month. You can advocate for those who go hungry in our community. You can raise awareness of the issue in workplaces, schools and civic organizations. You can donate money, food or time.
However you decide to help, your support does make a difference to our neighbors in need. Your support has enabled us to expand our mobile pantry program, implement more in-school pantries, and to significantly increase the amount of nutritious, perishable foods we are making available to children, seniors and other at-risk populations.
Every day, there are children who don’t go to bed hungry because of your support. Every day, there are senior citizens who can afford their medicine because they can save a few dollars on their food bill this month. Every day, there are working families who can afford to fix their cars or take their kids to the dentist because of the food they received from an emergency food program. Small acts of community kindness can make a big difference in the lives of families facing tough times.