Not far from my Philadelphia apartment, 10-year-old Marcus Gaines, Jr. has to balance school, friends, and the priorities of any other child. Nothing may seem very different for Marcus from many of our childhoods—at least, at first glance. But for Marcus and many of his classmates in Philadelphia, here in Virginia and across the country, they struggle every day to overcome a vicious cycle that can limit or dominate a child’s thoughts, actions and very being.
“When I eat and I see my mom and dad don’t, I say, ‘why don’t you eat?’” Marcus shared in a 2011 interview. “It makes me feel nervous and kind of sad and stuff. I worry about them. I try to give them my chicken nuggets.”
Hunger plagues a staggering 1 in 7 people in Virginia and the nation, creating a vicious cycle in which children and adults must constantly worry about getting food and where they can next find it. For many children, it limits or even paralyzes their thinking, leaving them living hourby- hour, unable to focus on school, friends or family.
Undernourishment kills more people every year than malaria, tuberculosis, and AIDS—combined. For the one billion people who will go to bed hungry tonight, the painful discomfort and weakness of hunger is more than just a concept—it is an affliction on their very way of life. We live in America, the richest nation at the richest time in history, yet tens of millions of American families still struggle every day just to put food on the table.
In Tidewater for our own neighbors, the reality is no different. The Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore was able to distribute 14.2-million meals last year to more than 300,000 individuals in Tidewater and on the Eastern Shore who suffered from hunger. In our own Jewish community, Jewish Family Service provided services to more than 2,700 individuals last year, most who were impoverished and 68% who were not Jewish. Nonetheless, the local Foodbank still runs short of its eventual goal to distribute 16.6-million meals per year.
There is still much work to be done. Stop Hunger Now, a major international hunger relief organization, created an innovative, rapid meal-packaging program a decade ago that has made huge leaps toward eliminating world hunger. Amazingly, these quick small meal packets of 21 vitamins and minerals are packed for just 29 cents each – many of which are used for immediate response to crises like famine and natural disasters.
But now, here in our Tidewater Jewish community, you can be a part of the solution.
This summer, I and a coalition of young Jewish leaders in Tidewater led by recent James Madison University graduate Hannah Hofheimer Moss are coming together in partnership with JFS to create Hunger Feast, an experimental and hands-on event to raise awareness and create meal bags to be sent overseas. We are a diverse group from virtually every background— different high schools, colleges, and even professional backgrounds— bringing together our Jewish community to eradicate hunger in the spirit of Tikkun Olam.
The first part of the event will be a “feast” different from what the attendees will have ever experienced, as everyone is randomly assigned to one of three “classes” of dining through which participants will be able to experience first-hand the way socioeconomic status affects meals. People are obviously going to have interesting experiences during this segregated dining, but at the same time, everyone will find themselves enjoying the speakers and additional activities designed to further enlighten our community about local and global hunger issues. The second part of the event is packing meal bags with Stop Hunger Now, an international hunger relief agency. We will pack 20,000 meal bags, which will feed 120,000 people. A group of 30 to 40 volunteers alone can pack 10,000 bags in just 90 minutes.
We need your help, and ask you to join us in supporting Hunger Feast to learn about local and international hunger issues and to support our meal packaging for the hungry. We also appreciate financial support. Recognized giving levels include Planter $100, Grower $250, Harvester $500, and Distributor $1,000, though any amount is appreciated. Contributions should be mailed to: JFS, attn: Hunger Feast, 260 Grayson Road, Virginia Beach, VA 23462. For more information, email email@example.com.
by Jake Levy