Hunger is not political; it is not racial. Whites, blacks and Hispanics all saw upticks in national poverty percentages in the last census.
No matter who wins in November, hunger is a defining issue, the result of which has implication on all problems our country faces. You don't need a focus group to see the problems, and you don't need a poll to find out what works.
The issue of hunger is one that is largely discussed in the negative, with positive developments rarely receiving mention. For Americans, it doesn't matter whether or not the President is red or blue, the bottom line should always be about the health and prosperity of them and their families.
Not knowing what President Obama will discuss in his convention, Mitt Romney said during his speech last Thursday, "Today more Americans wake up in poverty than ever before. Nearly one out of six Americans is living in poverty. Look around you -- these aren't strangers." President Obama has been on record saying he wants to eliminate childhood hunger by 2015. The last time President Obama made a convention speech, in 2008, he spoke about the promise of America, "The idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation; the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper."
There are over 46 million Americans living under the poverty line. That translates to a little over 15% of the population. Of those, 16.4 million are children; nearly one-fourth of American children live in poverty. The healthcare debate focused on the 49 million Americans without health insurance. Roughly the same number of Americans are affected by hunger and poverty but the issue receives a fraction of the coverage.
America is hungry. The economic downturn resulted in more people being laid off, a weaker outlook and near impossible access to credit. Homeless shelters and food banks are unable to keep up with the amount of people who need help.
For a year, five of us, fresh out of college, are traveling around America making documentaries about regular Americans doing inspiring things to help these very communities that are struggling.
We've seen all sorts of projects and the relentless drive that forces the will of their creators to keep going. We've been driving around the U.S. for about seven months, and can say first-hand, that the mentality of everyone we've met backs up the idea that your community is yours, and it doesn't take much to help many.
We're a nonprofit web series interested in highlighting positive stories of community success, regardless of political position. We aren't interested in picking one candidate over the other. We would much rather disregard the speeches, platforms, and rhetoric from both sides for the moment and tell you about things that are happening today. Things that are making a difference today, done by Americans that simply want to help. Hunger is an issue for both sides of the aisle. The people we have met are a great way to start seeing some positive impacts first-hand.
Giving Dignity to Those Who Are Hungry
In Lawrence, KS, there is a student group at The University of Kansas that wanted to get students and the homeless community together in an innovative way. They created the Jubilee Cafe -- a breakfast soup kitchen with a twist -- it uses a restaurant-style table service in order to interact with guests.
Joe Alford, the Cafe's creator, says that the most important thing was to develop a place where the guests are, "treated with dignity and respect." The difficulties associated with living in poverty and without a home are already challenging, being stigmatized and ignored in society is just another burden that weakens resolve, and increases the feeling of helplessness.
Ensuring Nutritious Food Is Available
The problems associated with hunger are not just in the statistics of food banks and number of soup kitchens. Bo Cable, of Greenville, South Carolina, found it troubling that so many food banks and shelters relied on canned food only. There were no fresh vegetables, fruits, or other greens that were available to those who needed the nutrition the most. He developed the Generous Garden Project that uses volunteers to plant and harvest fresh produce. All that is grown is given to food banks, shelters, and single parent families in order to help feed those who are hungry.
Cable started the project after volunteering in many food banks and shelters, and had no experience in farming whatsoever. The Generous Garden grew and distributed over 32,000 lbs of produce, producing about 21,000 meals in its first year alone. The project has served as a catalyst for volunteering in Greenville as well as helping ensure that healthy food is an option for food banks and soup kitchens.
Making A Difference on a Grass-Roots Level
After Hurricane Katrina, the already poverty-stricken Lower Ninth Ward was devastated beyond imagination. Although there was a huge humanitarian response to the disaster, for many people, the effects from the storm only magnified the underlying challenges affecting them and their families. Our School At Blair Grocery trains young people how to farm while educating about how to build a sustainable livelihood through urban farming.
Nat Turner, a high-school teacher from New York, wanted to not only challenge those perceptions, but find a way for the residents to use the growing of food to help themselves, and to educate them on sustainable business principles. "We were trying to figure out 'how do we grow the growers to grow the food?'" He continues, "It's about skill building and figuring out how to empower people to do things for themselves."
Create A Resource, Help Empower
In Mississippi, the poverty rate is 21.9%, the worst in the nation. The Mississippi Delta region has struggled with poverty and malnutrition for as long as people there can remember. One organization in Mississippi, Gaining Ground, was started with the hope of providing resources whereby people, regardless of where they live, can learn how to successfully farm no matter the size of their garden or their experience with farming.
Gaining Ground has programs focused on education about how to farm, how to develop community supported agriculture, and ensuring school meals contain healthy options.
These are only a handful of innovative projects that we've come across that look at the issues associated with hunger, and the need to take them on. We've seen a group of community members making Friday Food Bags for kids who qualify for free or reduced lunches (video coming soon!) in Wyoming and innovative ways about educating students about poverty through the $2 Challenge in Virginia. The people we have met are all different in their location, situation, and approach, however they all share the same motivation: to make life better for those they count as neighbors.
It doesn't matter if you are in a red state or blue state. Nowhere in our travels have we met people whose motivation is to further political goals or aspirations. Their drive and determination is fueled by their love of the neighbor, the responsibility to those who could use help, the pride in working to improve the day, and the life of their friends.
"These aren't strangers." "I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper". The issue of Hunger affects all of us, and is present in all of our lives.
Bus 52 is a year-long web-series featuring five young people traveling across the country on a converted school bus highlighting positive stories of inspiring individuals and organizations who are making a difference in their communities. We've just released our 59th story, and are planning 100 in total. New episodes appear on Tuesdays and Thursdays. For more information, visit our YouTube channel, Facebook page, Website, and follow us on Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and Findery.
This post is part of the HuffPost Shadow Conventions 2012, a series spotlighting three issues that are not being discussed at the national GOP and Democratic conventions: The Drug War, Poverty in America, and Money in Politics.
HuffPost Live will be taking a comprehensive look at the persistence of poverty in America August 29th and September 5th from 12-4 pm ET and 6-10 pm ET. Click here to check it out -- and join the conversation.
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