By Barb Arland-Fye
Reports about hunger — nationwide and around the world — invariably come to my attention while I’m eating lunch at my desk.
That happened again this week with the news that 17 million households in the United States at some point in 2008 experienced difficulty in providing enough food for all of their members.
I glanced at my plate and wondered why I have been so blessed when one in seven (14.6 percent) American households suffered from food insecurity last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That figure was 3.5 percentage points higher than the previous year when 11.1 percent (13 million households) were food insecure. That’s the highest one-year increase since the USDA began publishing the data in 1998.
The same day the USDA released its report (Nov. 16), students at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School in Davenport filled an entire pickup truck with groceries they collected on Sunday to provide hungry and homeless people with “the perfect Thanksgiving dinner.”
Two weeks before that, a 7-year-old girl, accompanied by her mother, dropped off 305 canned goods and other items — 250 pounds worth — at the food pantry Sacred Heart Cathedral operates at The Center in Davenport.
While other church groups and individuals are collecting food for the hungry this Thanksgiving throughout the Diocese of Davenport, the efforts of these children especially gives me reason for hope.
The perfect Thanksgiving dinner project was the result of a brainstorming session Lynn Leming, a teacher at St. Paul’s, had with her seventh- and eighth-grade students. They created a list of items they thought would make the perfect Thanksgiving dinner: turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, rolls and real butter, pumpkin and apple pie and other comfort foods. Then they set out to collect enough food for 10 families in need.
On Sunday, they walked door-to-door in their neighborhoods asking neighbors to “help in putting together perfect Thanksgiving dinners for the homeless and hungry and needy,” Leming said. If neighbors didn’t have the items listed, students suggested other items that could be donated to the Food Pantry at The Center. Cash donations also were accepted.
“They just touched my heart,” Leming said of the generosity of students and donors. Items for 10 perfect Thanksgiving dinners were donated to The Center, where St. John’s United Methodist Church in Davenport offers a variety of ministries, including the food pantry that Sacred Heart Cathedral operates. Other canned goods and items the students collected were donated to the food pantry, which St. Paul’s regularly contributes to.
“I am so proud they (the students) see the need,” Leming said. “It’s about taking on responsibility, and who better to take responsibility than young people? It’s in the giving that we receive.”
Deacon Bob McCoy, who coordinates the food pantry, said he and other volunteers picked up the items at St. Paul’s on Monday morning and appreciated the students’ efforts. He also said he still is recovering from the shock of the incredible gift from the second-grader just days before.
Keith Perry, the food pantry’s manager, had e-mailed Deacon McCoy about the little girl’s generous donation of 305 food items. “The little girl prepared her own flier, which she passed out door to door in her neighborhood. Her mom took any money donated in lieu of food and used that to purchase additional food items. She made up a sign which I hung on our counter,” Perry wrote.
The little girl, Elizabeth, told neighbors she was a member of St. John’s United Methodist Church and was collecting donations for the food pantry. She created a poster for the pantry that read: “Be Happy with the Food.” She signed it, “Elizabeth.”
Her donation “was the most pleasant surprise I’ve had in all my years in food ministry,” Deacon McCoy said. People of various faiths come together to keep the food pantry going. “Ecumenically, as we work together we can get so much more done.”