Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

As Hunger Rises in US, So Do Creative Ways to Help

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

As Hunger Rises in US, So Do Creative Ways to Help

Article excerpt

With a big spike in the number of Americans heading to food banks, people who want to help are getting creative - from corporations to state governments to individuals.

Food pantries across the country have reported a 30 percent increase in how many people are coming in for a bag of groceries, many of them for the first time. That has prompted more corporate and individual donations, but not nearly enough to meet the sudden demand. And so antihunger advocates have put on their thinking caps.

Groups like City Harvest in New York are urging corporations such as BlackRock Inc. to skip their annual holiday party and donate the money to help the hungry instead.

Dozens of yoga centers like Riverdog in Old Saybrook, Conn., are holding "Yoga for Food" events: bring a bag of groceries and get a free class.

Feeding America, the largest US hunger-relief organization, has teamed up with General Mills and NBC's show "The Biggest Loser" for a "Pound for Pound Challenge." Pledge to lose weight and for every pound you do, General Mills will donate 10 cents to Feeding America.

Even soap operas are in on it. Characters in "Guiding Light" and "The Young and the Restless" are holding V8 Juice-sponsored food drives for Feeding America.

Antihunger advocates say this is one of the toughest seasons they've ever seen, but it's also an innovative one, too.

"This is the scrappiest year we've had in terms of having to come up with strategic approaches to things," says Jilly Stephens, executive director of City Harvest, which collects excess food and delivers it to community food programs. "But the team here is being fantastically creative not only about raising funds, but also raising food, too. We're turning over every stone we can."

The "stones" they're turning over are big and little. At City Harvest's request, Mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote to 200 major food manufacturers and distributors in the area and asked them to donate. The group is also urging individuals to skip lunch one day and donate that money to a food bank.

Similar efforts are under way nationwide. Feeding America, which used to be called America's Second Harvest, coordinates donations of money and food for more than 200 food banks in all 50 states. This year, donations of food to Feeding America are up 13 percent over last year. Funding is up 30 percent.

Corporations like Kraft Foods, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America have made million-dollar-plus donations this year. Others, like KPMG, decided to forgo holiday bonuses and instead donate a half million dollars to Feeding America.

"That is our happy news at the national office," says Ross Fraser, a spokesman for Feeding America, which is based in Chicago. "But demand is up so much higher that even though we're raking in all of this dough and all of this food, we're not keeping up with demand. …

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