Learn more about Americans facing hunger, and how others are making a difference through volunteering, donating and advocating
Daronne Dobni, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, has a heart for people struggling with hunger not only in his home country of Canada, but also in the neighboring United States. Owner of Shade-It, a company that manufactures car window shades, Daronne said, “I experienced success with selling in the U.S. market. I have a strong customer base there.” Thankful for his product’s appeal to American consumers, he added further, “I feel a strong need to give back and to help assist people struggling with hunger in the United States.”
Digging deeper, it becomes clear why giving back is important to Daronne. “I've been poor myself. I lived in a shelter. I come from nothing,” he said. Thinking back to those early days he continued, “I was being helped by people who donated.”
The journey of giving back began long before Daronne’s financial accomplishments. Even when resources were low, he did what he could to help people in his local community. “I used to place meals on people's doorsteps — bags of groceries. Even then I had a mission to help people eat. It makes me feel good that I can help.”
When considering how to reach people facing hunger in the United States, an online search led Daronne to the Feeding America website. There he watched the personal stories of people served by network food banks, read financial reports and learned how his donations could translate into meals for people struggling with hunger. Daronne commented, “The website is professional. Feeding America is open and transparent. I learned that the organization would distribute my contributions properly and ethically and that 98 percent of all that Feeding America receives goes to programs to end hunger in the U.S.”
In addition, Daronne learned of Feeding America’s partnership with best-selling author, entrepreneur and philanthropist Tony Robbins who initiated the 100 Million Meals Challenge and, now in year two, the 100 Million More Meals Challenge. In each campaign, Tony matches financial donations to Feeding America, doubling peoples’ impact.
Inspired by Tony’s commitment to domestic hunger and confident his own financial donations would be put to good use, Daronne began supporting Feeding America. And so the giving continues, and to communities much further away from his hometown. Daronne’s most recent gift to Feeding America — doubled as part of the 100 Million More Meals Challenge — represents the equivalent of 220,000 meals for individuals and families in need.
The themes of thankfulness and generosity repeat themselves in Daronne’s life with far-reaching effects, crossing borders and truly helping neighbors in need. “Living is giving,” Daronne noted. More than a kind sentiment, these words are a declaration of action and welcome relief to the more than 42 million Americans struggling with hunger.
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My name is Zoey and I’m 11 years old. I live in Maine with my mom and my brother Zeus.
My mom works really hard to make sure me and Zeus have a roof over our head and enough to eat. When we’re eating, she’ll make sure we eat first and are full. Then if there’s leftovers she’ll make dinner for herself. She works from home, but I know it’s still a struggle.
During the school year, I get free lunch and breakfast at school, which helps my mom make sure we have enough food for the weekends. But during the summer when school is out, we don’t have those meals, so instead we go to the free lunch program.
I love the free lunch program. I go every day. They serve us turkey and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, apples, carrots and broccoli. It’s really good food that gives me the energy I need to be active and play with my friends. It also helps my mom not stress, because she doesn’t have to worry about finding money to feed us extra meals during the summer.
Without the lunch program, I would be sad. I’m really happy that we have it. To everyone who makes it possible I want to say thank you. Because you’re making kids like me happy and our parents happy too, by making it easier for all of us to get enough to eat.
*We are able to tell this story with our partner, C&S Wholesale Grocers, who helped with production costs.
When your loved ones need you, you can either turn away or choose to help. My name is Candy, and I chose to help.
Currently, I live with and take care of my aging parents. I am actually married with three children – ages 13, 14 and 18 – but my parents require 24-hour care, so I stay with them while the rest of my family lives next door.
A few years ago, my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It’s gotten to the point where he no longer remembers anyone and can’t do anything for himself. My mother’s health is failing as well. She doesn’t have the ability to care for him, so the responsibility is on me.
My parents worked their entire lives, but through no fault of their own they’ve been left with only a small, fixed income. Consequently, it’s fallen on my family to help provide for them. My husband works full time, but with seven mouths to feed now it’s barely enough to get by. We’ve often had to choose between buying food and medicine, and sometimes, my husband and I skip meals altogether so my parents can eat. I love my parents, but the constant stress of having to watch their every move and wonder how we’ll pay our next bill can really be wearing.
That’s why, when I discovered the food pantry in our town I was truly relieved. With their help, I no longer have to worry about where our next meal is coming from. The food pantry helps in other ways too – they often provide basic household items like soap and paper towels, and they provide emotional support. Many of the volunteers there help because they’ve been where I am: struggling to get by. They understand where I‘m coming from, and they care.
I am so grateful for the food pantry. Without their help, my family might simply go hungry. These past few years have been some of the most difficult of my life – but having the pantry to turn to is helping me get through. In the midst of my stress, I can relax better at night knowing that my family will have breakfast in the morning. The food pantry’s help is blessing that someday, I hope to be able to forward on.
For the Buelow family, “changing their corner of the world” is more than a phrase. Todd, Michelle and their two daughters each does his or her part to address hunger, poverty and homelessness, among other social issues, in their community.
It only takes a short conversation with her to learn that business savvy and a caring heart find their perfect match in Michelle Buelow. A mom-turned-entrepreneur, Michelle is CEO of Bella Tunno, a baby and parenting accessories line designed to make a difference. Launched in 2005, Bella Tunno has grown from an in-home venture to a thriving commercial business with diaper bags, crawler kneepads, bibs, blankets, pint-size bodysuits and more available at retailers of all sizes, including Nordstrom and Amazon.
A passion for hunger relief may seem misplaced amid this fast-paced, successful business. But for the Buelow family, helping others — including eradicating hunger — is not an afterthought, but rather part of the company’s very foundation.
One impactful moment solidified the family’s long-term commitment to hunger relief. A volunteer experience at a local elementary school brought the severity of child hunger into focus. While sharing tangerines with first and second-graders during story hour, Michelle discovered that some of the children had never heard of the fruit. And before she could explain that the peel should be discarded, several students bit into them like apples. But then came the biggest surprise. “Some children chose to continue eating the rind because they were so hungry,” said Michelle. “You cannot know that happens and not do something about it.”
Blending the Buelow family’s passion for hunger relief with Bella Tunno’s child-centric mission made perfect sense. Since 2013, Bella Tunno’s Buy One Give One Initiative (B1G Initiative) helps alleviate childhood hunger in the United States. For every product sold, Bella Tunno donates one meal to Feeding America to help children struggling with hunger. “Through the campaign, consumers play a role in ending hunger,” said Michelle. “They have direct impact, connecting one child in America with one meal.”
Now in its fourth year, the B1G Initiative has gone from baby steps to an all-out sprint, having raised funds for more than 685,000 meals to date. “The more we do, the more we want to do,” Michelle said. “It hurts your heart to see children facing hunger.” And so, to address the 1 in 6 children who struggle with hunger across America, Bella Tunno will spread the love even further: From Valentine’s Day through the end of February 2017, every product sold will generate not one, but a six-meal donation, to Feeding America.
We asked Michelle how a heart for hunger relief grew into a national effort with Feeding America. “It was not by chance,” said Michelle emphatically. “It was through research.” Bella Tunno staff compiled a spreadsheet of non-profits associated with key words like “children,” “family” and “meals.” Then they dove further, analyzing and comparing Charity Navigator ratings, fundraising efficiency, charitable commitment ratings, credibility and whether the funds would be used here in the United States. It revealed one conclusion: “Feeding America became the clear choice,” said Michelle. “We love our partnership. When you give to Feeding America, your gifts will have the most impact and the most reach.”
Proud of their commitment to alleviating hunger with Feeding America, Michelle, her family and the Bella Tunno team invite everyone to share the love during this Valentine’s season and all year round. Through the B1G Initiative, “for every action there is a philanthropic reaction” — connecting food-insecure children with much-needed meals. And as a result of their partnership with Feeding America, with its ability to feed more children than any other hunger-relief organization, participants can know “that what you do is exponentially impactful.”
As part of Bella Tunno’s commitment to "do better, live brighter and love bigger," each sale triggers a financial donation to help someone in need. Donations are directed to the Matt Tunno Make a Difference Memorial Fund, created to honor Michelle’s late brother who struggled with drug dependency. From there, funds are disbursed to a myriad of philanthropic causes close to the Buelow family’s heart in their community of Charlotte, North Carolina and across the country, including hunger relief for children.
With mantras like “Grateful,” “Love is All We Need,” and “Warrior” inscribed in the designs of each collection, Spiritual Gangster is a yoga-inspired clothing brand that reflects an inner state of being. A state of being rooted in gratitude.
For every item sold, the company donates proceeds to provide a meal to a person in need. “We believe that no person should go hungry,” comments Spiritual Gangster CEO Ian Lopatin, “and every person has the right to food and shelter.” With an astounding 48 million people in America struggling with hunger, he adds, “We can do something to end this epidemic by donating meals, educating our community, and empowering one another to make a social impact.”
With Spiritual Gangster’s roots in Phoenix, Lopatin talks about the brand’s early affiliation with St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance. He mentions, “We found that they were the first food bank in Arizona and built a close relationship with them. In addition to monetary donations, our team packed meals alongside organizers and other dedicated volunteers.”
“Beyond good karma, Spiritual Gangster is committed to addressing and eradicating America’s hunger epidemic,” Lopatin explains and further adds, “The brand and the business is a platform to give back and inspire others to be agents of change. In giving to others, we are truly giving to ourselves. In feeding others, we are feeding ourselves.” Another mantra frequently messaged in Spiritual Gangster’s collections is “We Are All One” – echoing his belief in connectedness. Lopatin concludes with, “Spiritual Gangster is truly a movement disguised as a clothing brand.”
My husband, three children and I live off of my salary of $22,000 per year. My husband stays home with the children because even with him working, we can’t afford the cost of daycare. I’m a school health aide, work full time and have an associate’s degree – but I still cannot generate enough income for my family to live comfortably.
However, I am hoping that will change soon. I’m in the process of completing my bachelor’s degree and I only have a few more semesters to go. With my new degree, I can earn more and provide a better life for my family. In the meantime though, we rely on the food pantry to help feed our children.
The pantry is helpful all year round, but it is particularly helpful for us during summer. I am only employed nine months of the year because I work at a school. From June to September, we have no income coming in. On top of that, my children aren’t receiving free school meals – so I have to stretch our budget even further those extra costs. I start stocking up shelf-stable items from the pantry early in the year so I know we’ll have enough. During the summer, I also cut food costs by growing fruits and vegetables in my garden. I do everything I can to make sure my children have enough of the healthy food they need to grow strong – no matter the season.
We are low income and to be honest, it’s really self-defeating at times. Especially when I get up and go to work each day like everyone else, but still have to ask others for help to put food on the table. Even so, I refuse to let my income level define me. I am Samantha. I am a mother, a wife and I am surrounded by a loving, caring community – including the people at the food pantry who are always there for us.
I’m going to get my degree and tomorrow will be brighter. But today, I’m still thankful for what I have. We may not experience the “finer things” in life but we have everything we need, including love – and that’s something money will never be able to buy.
I would like to tell you about an awesome volunteer we have at Feeding the Gulf Coast. Marilee has been volunteering at FTGC for 9 months and in those 9 months she has put in nearly 475 volunteer hours. She always arrives with a smile on her face and has a positive attitude. Marilee has volunteered in reclamation where she helped to sort over 53,000 pounds of donated food. She has helped with clerical needs, inputting data into Primarius and recording volunteer hours. She have performed many tasks in our warehouse:
Marilee implemented new forms for pulling frozen and refrigerated product. This has proven to be more accurate and efficient when filling agency orders. She also maintains our produce coolers. With her creativity our produce looks more appealing to our agencies.
When asked, what do you enjoy about volunteering? Marilee answered, “This is my first volunteer job and I wasn’t sure what to expect. After realizing how many individuals and families need help, it is a good, but humbling feeling to know that you have helped in some way. I never realized there were so many hungry kids. The Backpack Program was a real eye-opener for that. I always feel like I have accomplished something when I leave the food bank and I look forward to coming back the next day.”
Marilee has been retired for a few years, prior to retirement she worked in the Space Shuttle Program for 26 years. She lives with her two one-year old German Shepherds, Ranger and Loki.
Story was submitted by Feeding the Gulf Coast.
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