11/16/2011 01:32 pm ET | Updated Jan 16, 2012

Making a Difference: The World of Giving -- Hunger and Thankful Giving

Thanksgiving is a time that the nation turns its attention toward being grateful for all the blessings/things in our lives. We think about all those blessings that this year has afforded us and then sit down to a fabulous feast of food. However, while most of us "over-eat" during the holidays, there are individuals who do not have enough to eat. Many people I talk to say they don't know anyone who is hungry but my guess is they do. I say this because hunger in the United States looks very different than hunger in third world or developing countries. Hunger in the U.S. is a mom who waters down the milk to make it go further; a dad skipping a meal so his children have something to eat; children never experiencing second helpings because there was not enough of food.

There are more than 37 million people in this country who are hungry and food insecure, half are children. This means that most of the time these people do not know from where their next meal is going to come. For 365 days of year they are wondering what they are going to eat. In their world, hunger isn't something they just think about during the holiday season. They live it every day. Fortunately, millions of Americans work to make sure these individuals have food and especially a Thanksgiving feast!

I believe this spirit began when the first Pilgrims came to this country in 1620, landing at Cape Cod in present day Massachusetts. Most of us learned the story of the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock during our grade school days. We learned that their survival was the result of the charity and generosity of the Native Americans living in that geographic area. To celebrate their survival and the fall harvest, the Pilgrims with the Native Americans gathered together for a feast. That tradition of celebrating good fortune and blessings continues today with the holiday we know as Thanksgiving.

What I find amazing is that it is estimated that annually, Americans throw out $150 billion worth of food, primarily due to cosmetic imperfections or lack of understanding about expiration dates and yet we have hungry people in this country!

Feeding America is the national organization dedicated to helping those who are hungry. Their mission is, " feed America's hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage our country in the fight to end hunger." There are more than 200 food banks and thousands of agencies which distribute food on annual basis to those people that are the food insecure. It is important to realize that in order to provide food for a Thanksgiving meal, donations need to be made this week (the week before Thanksgiving). To find a food bank in your area, check out the Feeding America website.

Other ways to provide food include serving a meal on Thanksgiving or making holiday baskets of food for distribution. Often civic groups such as local VFWs, Elks Clubs, Moose Clubs or houses of worship have programs with which you can become involved. Also check out the Habitat for Humanity in your community. While they are in the business of providing houses to those in need, they are also a resource for identifying those in the community that are in need.

My childhood best friend, Cathy and her husband, Mark, have adopted a block in Flint, Michigan with other members from their house of worship. They work every week to help those in need in the neighborhood. Locate those folks, like my friend Cathy, in your community who can tell you how you might affect change to those who are most in need.

Another idea is to go to your local senior citizens center, they often serve meals to help those in our society who are older and might be in need of a meal. They are also in need of volunteers and it is provides a great opportunity to socialize.

During this time of year, many local grocery stores as well as chains, offer the opportunity for shoppers to purchase a bag of food, a meal or to drop off a food item in a "food barrel". It is important to remember that protein and produce are much sought after items of food. Consider those food donations that will have the greatest impact. In other words, don't just clean out your pantry of food items you don't want. If you don't want the items, others most likely won't want the items either.

Many corporations and businesses in the food industry make food donations including Kraft Foods and Walmart. Kraft Foods has donated more than $770 million in cash and food over the past 25 years. In the last 14 years, they have provided more than one billion servings of food. In 2010, Walmart pledged $2 billion in food and aid over the next five (5) years to feed hungry people. The donation will go to Feeding America as do many of donations from Kraft Foods. Through the generosity and commitment of Kraft Food sand Walmart people will be fed!

It is also important to note that for every dollar donated to Feeding America, up to $8 worth of food is distributed due to their partnerships and relationships with various food companies including ConAgra. ConAgra is committed to feeding people including our children who they say 1 in 4 will be affected by hunger this year. Since 1993 they have donated 247 million pounds of food and $35 million to cause of alleviating hunger.

Here are three things to remember when dealing with the hunger issue:
• Hunger exists all year long, not just during the holidays; consider making an effort to make hunger one of your yearlong charitable causes
• Share the story of hunger in America with your family, friends and colleagues; the magnitude of the issue is currently unrecognized
• Treat all who need food with respect; don't be embarrassed; you will often not know someone's circumstances and what led them to their current situation

Many reading this will ask how they can help others who are hungry and food insecure? Here are five (5) recommendations and tips you can do add a charitable component to your Thanksgiving holiday traditions and will Make A Difference (M.A.D.):

1. Become aware; most of us don't realize there are hungry people in our communities, we usually think it is located somewhere else
2. Make a donation to your local food bank; it can either be monetary or food product; both make a difference
3. Make someone else's Thanksgiving special by creating a "food basket" with their entire dinner in it
4. Serve Thanksgiving dinner to those who are hungry and make it part of your holiday tradition; contact your local food bank or Feeding America to find out where you (and your family) can volunteer
5. Conduct a "food drive" in your community, work place, etc. to secure donations that are needed to feed the hungry; remember, protein (i.e., peanut butter, tuna fish, etc.) is a needed item

BONUS TIP: Realize that hunger occurs 52 weeks a year; make donating or volunteering to local food banks or Feeding America part of your regular charitable work! By feeding people, you are transforming their lives! Happy Thanksgiving!

There are many ways to help others not only during the holidays and all year. Thanksgiving is a wonderful time of year to establish new traditions and work to make a difference (M.A.D.)! What will you do to be M.A.D. this holiday season?

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