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Commentary: Fighting hunger

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Chances are good that when you think about what hunger looks like, you think of someone standing on a street corner, looking for a handout.

Odds are, you don’t conjure up an image of a single mom with two children, working full-time and living in the suburbs. Nor do you imagine an elderly man who lives down the street who rarely leaves his house or a child in your local high school.

The reality is that the face of hunger in Oklahoma today differs substantially from those Depression-era images of the gaunt-faced unemployed scavenging for food.

The majority of people served by Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and those who rely upon government assistance programs like WIC (Women, Infants and Children) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) are children living in poverty, seniors surviving on a fixed income and the working poor.

There is no doubt that the number of people experiencing hunger in Oklahoma has grown dramatically over the last decade.

Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma distributed 280,000 pounds of food during its first year of operation in 1980. We now distribute that much every two days.

Through a network of nearly 1,200 charitable feeding partners and schools, Regional Food Bank distributes enough food to feed more than 110,000 hungry Oklahomans every week.

To truly understand what it’s like to be hungry, look no farther than a school classroom in the metro.

There are more than 24,000 chronically hungry children who depend on food provided by Regional Food Bank’s Food for Kids program to keep them from going hungry over weekends and school holidays. When asked what it feels like to be hungry, one child describes it as feeling like “her belly button is touching her spine.”

Another says that the “hunger in his stomach is louder than the teacher standing before him in class.” After the family dog had to be given away because they could no longer afford to feed him, another girl worries she might be given away too.

Parents and the elderly are much more reserved when describing how it feels to worry about where their next meal will come from. Coping with hunger by skipping meals is simply a way of life.

The issue should never be about where the food comes from. Our focus should be about ensuring that everyone who needs food has access to it.

We all must recommit ourselves to creating an atmosphere of dignity and respect for Oklahomans who find themselves in a position of having to ask for help to feed their families. We must find the common good that unites us as a country and state and rekindle the “human spirit of sharing.”

Working together, we can make sure everyone has access to food. To do less is unacceptable. As Franklin D. Roosevelt stated, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

Rodney W. Bivens is executive director and founder of Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.

Print headline: Wage war on hunger, not the hungry

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