I was raised in a modest home, by parents who were self-employed but always provided enough food to go around. My grandparents were able to maintain employment throughout the depression but turned to fruit and vegetables grown in their own gardens to supplement meals. I never had to think about whether or not there would be dinner on the table any given night.
Of course, I had seen the National Geographic® pictures of starving children in other countries and heard of hunger in Appalachia, but I was shocked to hear of widespread hunger throughout the U.S. or the organizations working to feed people. My interview with Second Harvest – the organization now known as Feeding America – in 1987 was enlightening.
At that time, the main challenge for Second Harvest was educating people to this fact – that there were actually people struggling with hunger in America and that they could be our neighbors. We were this network of food banks and hunger-relief organizations committed to “putting ourselves out of business in 20 years.”
The network was ten years old and I was excited to be a part of a solution and working alongside such committed, determined people. In those years, organizational growth was very conservative, with each new position created mindfully. A new marketing position will get us X more pounds; a grant writer or development position will get us X more dollars. In budget meetings the question was always asked – “How many more people are we feeding?”
Over the years I have had the opportunity to participate in repack operations, Kids Cafe programs, soup kitchens, mobile pantries and countless fresh produce and food distribution centers. I carry with me the faces of the people who work at our partner organizations and the faces of the people I have served. This is what it is all about – giving, helping others. There is a moment when you look at each other and feel the warmth and care in each other’s’ eyes.
Very little separates us from our neighbors who may not know where they’ll find their next meal. We are all the same, just people, getting up every morning and trying our best to be kind and to support ourselves and our families. That I am able to make that day or any day better for someone is only part of the gifts I have received when I joined this organization 28 years ago. People helping people.
The growth in the Feeding America nationwide network of food banks since those early days has been nothing short of amazing. We have developed new programs, increased funding, set and achieved numerous goals. However, we have not solved hunger and have not put ourselves out of business. The work we have done and continue to do has enabled struggling families to thrive once again, seniors to balance their budgets and children to be children – to grow, learn, laugh and play.
I have been honored to be a part of it and I remain hopeful that the day will come a day when there is no more hunger and we will be able to close our doors. I remain hopeful that in my lifetime, there will be an end to hunger in America. But until then, I’ll keep working to help feed America.
*Sandra Hensley is the director of administration at Feeding America.
Tags: Hunger Heroes , We Feed Children