the hungry, feeding

 

Small tomatoes in Korea

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On Friday afternoon I spent several hours preparing ingredients for a huge pot of stew. I sliced up some onions, then washed and cut up carrots, celery, potatoes, and tomatoes. Along with all the veggies I threw 4 pounds of meat into the pot with tomato sauce, salt, pepper, paprika, and boiling hot water. While the stew cooked, I gave it the taste test now and then, making sure the flavors were blending just right. Now that I’m in my 60s, I feel like my taste buds are finally honed to perfection, or near perfection. It’s taken long enough! 

So why the huge pot of stew? A week ago Sunday, I learned through our church bulletin that there’s been an ongoing effort to feed the hungry in our community. Volunteers include members of various churches, as well as students from different schools. Now that we were aware of the program, my husband and I felt we needed to join others in offering meals to those in need.

lamb stew with leeks, lentils, yellow (heirloo...

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So on Saturday evening we, and about 6 or 7 other volunteers, served hearty bowls of stew and chili to people who wandered into the community hall to sit, eat, and visit. Many were regulars. It was obvious in how friendly they were with a couple of the volunteers.  There was an easy camaraderie among everyone. Diners lined up eagerly, looking forward to a hot meal, with sides like garlic bread, roasted asparagus, a Mediterranean salad of sliced cucumbers, feta cheese, sliced onions and kalamata olives, cottage cheese with a wonderful bowl of mixed fruit, and another of canned peaches. Beverages included plastic gallons of white and chocolate milk, along with containers of juice. And for dessert, ice cream and cake satisfied everyone’s  sweet tooth.

I helped ladle the stew I’d made into bowls, while a couple of other volunteers, 2 middle-schoolers and their mom, served up stew and chili brought by the woman who organized the event, and the asparagus brought by another volunteer. The diners helped themselves to the side dishes. It was humbling to be able to serve one meal to others, knowing that I’m able to dine 3 times a day. And when they expressed their heartfelt gratitude, I felt it was the least I could do for them. Such a small gesture, but to those with so little, it meant all the world.  

With enough volunteers on hand, 3 or 4 of the regulars sat and chatted with the diners. Being our first time, those of us serving up the food observed, and learned “the ropes.” As time passes, I’m sure we’ll become familiar enough to venture out from behind the serving table. My husband spent the time washing pots, pans, dishes, cups, and everythingelse put in front of him, including the huge, crock pots emptied of their contents. Because of his contribution, the volunteers were able to pack up and leave once the evening was over.

It was apparent that a free meal not only afforded these unfortunate souls a warm, full belly; it also gave them an hour or so of companionship in a secure, comfortable environment. Many congregated into small groups, chatting among themselves in hushed, or spirited tones. There were elderly men and women, as well as those in their 20s, and a few somewhere in-between. A couple of individuals were obviously in their “own world,” but harmed no one, preferring to dine alone, quietly.

For a very brief time, it was good to give of ourselves to those who make their way in society, unknown and perhaps unwelcome in many cases. Feeding them, giving them respite from the elements seems the least those of us who “have,” can do for those who “have not.” 

have my cutting board…primed and ready to go…hugmamma.

“thanks,” northwest harvest

Arriving in the mail today, was a newsletter from Northwest Harvest. I thought it a perfect time to share its contents, as I’m sure it reflects what’s occurring in most of the country these days. What better time to give thanks to an organization dedicated to helping the less fortunate survive, than during the month of Thanksgiving. Entitled “Where We Stand,” it’s written by Executive Director, Shelley Rotondo.

Northwest Harvest has seen Washington suffer more than one economic crisis during our 43-year fight against hunger. Many more people are now hungry and in need, pushed over the edge by the recent recession. If any good has come from these troubled times, it is that every community has gained a heightened awareness of hunger. Sadly, for far too many people, this new understanding is informed by firsthand experience.

News that the recession ended months ago makes little difference to those who still face the daily stress of struggling to provide for their families. Many of our clients and their families are newcomers to food banks, or former donors now turning to us for food. Across the state, people have lost their jobs or had their hours or benefits reduced. And we see so many young people unable to compete for work in a state where unemployment currently hovers around 9 percent.

Statewide, Northwest Harvest and the partners of our network are now providing over 634,000 services every month–a 35 percent increase since the start of the recession. A recent U.S. Census Report showed that 43.6 million Americans were living in poverty in 2009. This number, which includes over 800,000 Washingtonians, is the largest in the 51 years that estimates have been published.

More than half of those served by Northwest Harvest and our partners are children and the elderly. They are the most susceptible to health problems related to hunger and malnutrition, and have the least control over their circumstances. Children make up only 25 percent of the U.S. population, but 36 percent of those living in poverty. More than 224,000 of Washington’s children live below the federal poverty level, and roughly half of Washington infants are recipients of WIC (Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children).

Nearly all state basic service agencies have faced severe budget cuts and expect their resources to dwindle further in the coming year. With more than 1 in 7 Washingtonians relying on food stamps–a 21 percent increase from just one year ago–we know that deeper service reductions could have a devastating impact our clients. As the only Washington-based food bank distributor operating statewide, we are being called on more than ever before and in all corners of the state.

For all of these reasons, Northwest Harvest has grown rapidly, securing more than 24 million pounds of food for both of the last two years, a 33 percent increase over years before the recession. We can feed a family of three a nutritious meal for 67 cents, and as the state’s first food bank distributor to focus on nutrition, we have decades of experience promoting health while fighting hunger. Additionally, 93 cents of every dollar donated to Northwest Harvest goes directly to help those we serve.

But we need your help more than ever. In the first three months of our fiscal year, we did not meet budget goals for food or fund-raising. Meanwhile, many of the underlying causes of hunger are getting worse, bringing more and more people to their community hunger programs.

Northwest Harvest was founded because of those who would not stand idly by while their neighbors suffered. We have been able to continue expanding our services in response to the growing need because of the support of communities all across the state.

We are grateful to all who support us with gifts of any size. Whether you can give money, food or volunteer time, you are strengthening the safety net so many of our neighbors now need.

Thank you.

Among the many who donate their time, Holland America Lines provides its employees bus transportation to Northwest Harvest’s  warehouse,  to volunteer a few hours during their workday. It’s an annual event, occurring over 4 or 5 days. Family members are invited to join in the donation of time and effort.

for humanitarian efforts, huge hugs…hugmamma.