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Thanksgiving prayer to end hunger

Published November 19. 2011 09:01AM

Today, while I shopped in the supermarket where I usually buy my meat, I was overcome with disgust. I could go so far as to call it revulsion.

Boneless chicken had doubled in price from a short while ago. Even ground beef went up $1 a pound.

The cereal aisle produced more sticker shock when I saw the brand I normally buy was close to $5 a box.

I consider myself a smart shopper. I'm a coupon clipper and I don't do all my grocery shopping at just one store. Instead, I read the ads each week and buy the specials at three different stores.

But food is going up so much there is no such thing as a safe haven for a thrifty shopper. When I saw the galloping prices, I was feeling frustrated and a bit down as I tried to figure out what I could buy for our week's groceries.

But then, as I pushed my cart through the aisles, my attitude changed and I was overcome with a sense of gratitude.

I am grateful I CAN fill a grocery cart with food. Many people can't.

That thought is uppermost on my mind as we approach Thanksgiving. I never take having food for granted. I grew up listening to stories about how my parents struggled to get enough to eat during the early years of their marriage.

Now, the problem many of us have, is eating too much, not too little.

My parents couldn't afford to eat meat - unless my father brought it home from hunting. Their stories made a permanent impact on me.

It's one reason why I am especially aware of those who do not have the luxury of food in the refrigerator. It's one reason why I staunchly support community food pantries.

A few weeks ago I learned about the hidden hunger epidemic in our local elementary schools. With the growing economic crisis, an escalating number of elementary school children get a free lunch and free breakfast because of poverty level family income.

That's fine for these kids while they are in school. But what happens over the weekend when there is no one to supply the food?

In many cases, the answer is that the kids go hungry.

Teachers are seeing kids who come to school Monday morning asking teachers if they have any chewing gum or candy. They don't necessarily want sweets. They want food because they didn't get enough of it over the weekend.

Teachers say some kids are too hungry to concentrate.

Sometimes that's because parents are too caught up in their own problems to pay attention to the kids.

Sometimes it's because the parents are on drugs or because they spend what little money they have on booze.

Sometimes it's because sudden unemployment pushed parents who were living from paycheck to paycheck into poverty.

It doesn't matter why these kids are hungry. No child should have to go hungry. But many do.

In our area, one woman named Jolene went to her college reunion where she heard others talking about an offshoot of a poor economy -- kids going hungry. She wondered if that was true in our area.

Jolene is more than financially comfortable. So are all her friends. All around her, she doesn't see hunger. Most of us don't. But that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

After contacting teachers, Jolene learned the sad facts most of us don't know: Many kids are going hungry. After they leave school on Friday, there is no guarantee they will have another meal until Monday when they come to school and get the free breakfast and lunch given to needy kids.

Jolene belongs to a group of about 30 women who call themselves the YaYa Girls. That's grandmother in Greek, I'm told.

At first, the group thought they would raise enough money to sponsor one school - giving backpacks with nonperishable food to children identified by the school as especially in need. They have now expanded the program to seven elementary schools.

"We can't rest until no child goes hungry," Jolene said.

Heartfelt notes from the children tell how much the program means to them. I read some of those notes today and they can't fail to touch your heart and make you want to help.

One child wrote that he was happy to give his little brother cold cereal and applesauce from his backpack because that was the only food they had over the weekend.

Most people aren't aware of how much the economic crisis is affecting everyday families. They don't know some families have to shuffle from house to house, sleeping wherever someone offered them a bed. Most of us are shocked when we learn of children who have little or no food.

If homelessness and hunger are not part of our lives, we don't see it.

I'm convinced most of us want to help. We take donations to food pantries and we support charities that help the needy.

But if more of us knew the scope of the problem, we would realize donating a few bags of groceries a year is not enough.

Nothing is enough until people are no longer hungry.

In this season of Thanksgiving, those of us who have enough to eat can say "thank you" in a meaningful way. We can help those who don't have enough food.

Our food banks and church and community food pantry programs need donations. Look around and see how you can help.

That would be a fitting prayer of Thanksgiving.

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