“I’ve been judged because I don’t look poor enough.”
This is what Carol, a mom with a special-needs son, experienced when she visited a local pantry for food assistance. She looks like any other mom you’d meet. She has a home. Her husband works full-time as an electrician. But their family can’t always afford both food and the expensive health and behavioral care her son requires.
“I used to work as a special education teacher, until they found a tumor in my leg,” Carol shared. After fighting a hard battle with cancer, she wasn’t able to return to work. At the same time, her son’s needs for specialized care intensified.
Carol’s plight mirrors what many parents, children and seniors experience on a daily basis – the tough choice of being able to afford food or paying for other critical expenses.
Over 700,000 people in the Tampa Bay Area alone fight hunger on a day-to-day basis. And the hungry most often don’t fit the stereotypical mold of homelessness or extreme poverty. Food insecurity is rising most quickly in the suburbs, where owning a home and a car are a necessity, but can also put people in precarious financial situations.
Feeding Tampa Bay exists to shorten the line of people who need food assistance, giving them the necessary nutritious meals to feed themselves and their families. Every month, the organization delivers more than 3 million meals locally, but that only fills about half of the need.
Another local mom, Keta, relies on Feeding Tampa Bay to help provide for her two young daughters when finances get tight. Keta is a single parent.
“My biggest fear is for my girls to go without,” Keta said. “I just want to give them everything, and I want them to be healthy, happy and believe in themselves.”
She previously had to resort to hoping canned goods and boxes of cereal would last when her paycheck didn’t go as far as she thought. But through Feeding Tampa Bay, Keta can feed her children the fresh fruits and nutritious proteins to keep them growing strong.
Approximately 60 percent of people who battle hunger live above the poverty line, meaning food insecurity could impact our neighbors, our coworkers and even our friends. There are elderly who have to choose between buying food and paying for their prescription refills. There are parents who have to choose between paying for their children’s education and putting food on the table. There are college students who have to choose between buying their textbooks for class and eating healthy meals three times per day.
In this season of giving, here are three things you can do to become a hunger hero and take a stand against food insecurity:
1 – Share what you learned. Half of the fight against hunger is simply awareness. Hunger is often an invisible issue, as those experiencing it don’t like talking about it. You can give them a voice by helping advocate for Feeding Tampa Bay’s mission on social media.
2 – Volunteer your time. Feeding Tampa Bay has many different volunteer opportunities, from warehouse food sorting to community food distributions. The organization even hosts a monthly “family night,” where kids of all ages can participate in the cause. Sign up at www.FeedingTampaBay.org.
3 – Donate to the cause. Every $6 given to Feeding Tampa Bay will feed one person for a month. The organization gathers food that likely would end up in a landfill from retail stores and restaurants, then delivers it to the communities that need it most. You can learn more at www.DontLabelHunger.com.
*This article was originally published in the November 2017 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.