In 1621, Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving by inviting local Wampanoags to a lavish feast from their harvest. Today, every family has their own Thanksgiving tradition, but it is important to remember the spirit of that first celebration. When the 53 settlers did not have enough food to feed their colony, the Wampanoag came to their aid by teaching them to fish and farm in the New World. The Pilgrims shared the newfound bounty to repay their kindness. With that in mind, it is important to remember those less fortunate and help today’s hungry families this holiday season.
In 2010, when the recession had taken hold, the number of Americans who had difficulty providing food for themselves and their families jumped to 17.2 million households, the highest level ever recorded by the Department of Agriculture – a total of nearly 40 million people. Here in New York, 12 percent of the population doesn’t always meet basic nutritional needs.
Fortunately, there are programs to help. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides assistance to certain groups whose needs are most dire. The Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP) hosts food safety and health education programs and allocates state and federal funds to the 2,500 food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens and emergency shelters in our state.
But even with these strong programs in place, more needs to be done. Food banks have been strained over the past few years and need our help. According to Feeding America’s 2010 hunger study, food banks, pantries and soup kitchens served more than 37 million Americans in the preceding year, an increase of 46 percent from 2006. In New York, facilities serve over 160 million meals each year.
Around Thanksgiving, food banks across the state are busiest providing meals for the residents who rely on their programs and services. Many of these food banks depend solely on volunteers and require donations to stay open. Unfortunately, some facilities have had to close their doors at times due to a lack of supplies and staff, but it does not take much to keep these services available. Whether it is your time, extra food or other donations, your help can go a long way this holiday season.
Nearly 23 million Americans, many of them children, struggle to find a meal on Thanksgiving. We have the means to help combat hunger in our state. If you would like to volunteer or donate food, there are a number of ways you can make a difference, including donating to a local food drive or food pantry. Every little bit helps. Thank you.