Have you ever plopped yourself dramatically into a restaurant booth, or shaken your coat off in the lobby having eaten breakfast only a few hours earlier, with those words?
Guilty. Countless times. So guilty. My own mother will confirm that "I'm starving" is her oldest, more dramatic, certainly-not-ever-starving child's favorite pre-meal phrase, even if the last one wasn't that long ago.
And the truth is, I probably am hungry. Blame chemistry, biology, I don't know, but I am well-acquainted with the desire for food. I love it, always have, and grew up in an environment where along with everything else that signified love, it was at the top.
Do you want a sandwich?
Do you need a drink?
Can I get you anything else?
I don't know from starving, not even remotely close. There was always, always, always, an offering, a desire to provide, even when I had no evident need. Every day, several times, I heard this, and basked like an...animal that basks (manatee? Sea lion? Do they bask? Oh my hell. I fail all science.)...in that security and knowledge that someone was standing by to fill my not-that-needy mouth and stomach.
That is what everyone in my small, close-knit, essential sphere heard and said and relied upon as a marker of time and connection and some kind of cultural identity, I know. We didn't have a lot, still don't have more than many, but we have always known that we could feed each other, that we, ourselves, could be fed.
What a luxury we had, and have, I've come to learn. Because starving? Beyond exasperated hypberbole, no, never, not here -- maybe in my zip code, it's not like I don't know that's possible, but not in my house.
When I was a child in Catholic school, we collected milk cartons full of pennies for children in countries we could barely envision, and where our small brains couldn't possibly imagine the need. As an adult, this imperative has returned to my view, better illuminated, with thankfully some more concrete interventions, which I like.
I see the issue of global hunger differently, now, of course: as a self-supporting individual, as a person responsible for my own care and feeding, as an adult more clearly and painfully aware of inequities at home and around the world, as a person with a television and an internet connection and a professional network that includes people who have traveled the world over and come back to say that there is need in so many places that we can't possibly imagine, but can perhaps help to meet.
I say it as a person who has taken but a few international trips, to Vietnam, to the Bahamas, to Venezuela, to places where I nonetheless saw need like I'd never seen in my backyard, things I can't ever unsee. I also say it as a person who has driven through neighborhoods in my beloved American South and in my nation's capital, my own almost-backyard, where I know the kids and grown-ups would benefit from more and better food sources, where who knows what or how much they're eating.
So here I am, to talk about the Fill the Cup program, for all of these people. I'd like you to listen up for a few minutes, and only a tiny bit because I agreed to tell you about it. I'd like you to listen, because the facts are rather dire, and because you and I are not starving, currently, I'm guessing. I don't know about you, but I can at least get up and go to the refrigerator, where I guarantee I will turn up my nose at a good bit of the contents, because it's been a few days since I picked up anything I feel like eating.
Anything I feel like eating, and yet I have a full pantry. Privilege is a fascinating, insidious thing.
I'd appreciate it if you'd check out this World Food Program (or Programme if you're in the UK and feeling fancy, because I dig it) fact sheet:
(It's all a lot ridiculous, when you think about it for .5 seconds.)
Today, an estimated 66 million children across the developing world (which is most of the world, not our little corners) attend school hungry, 23 million of them in Africa alone.
That is disgusting, y'all. 66 MILLION. CHILDREN. I could barely tolerate school WITH breakfast. Can you imagine? Maybe your life was way different and you can, in which case, I want to hear from you more than me, because I salute you. But I can't.
Without food, children get sicker, and are less likely to be able to learn.
Duh, right? I have planned training programs for adults for almost two decades. They fall asleep without three cups of coffee and write scathing comments on evaluations about a room that is too cold into which they failed to bring a sweater. I have dealt with unchecked rage over the wrong kind of Danish. Without adequate breakfast, of any kind, for a child? What can we expect of brains to learn?
Thankfully there are organizations working mostly in obscurity, although this should change, to intervene and try to fix this horrible problem. Enter the World Food Program, who were brave enough to invite me to speak on their behalf during this season of relative abundance in the United States.
They do the life-saving, revolutionary work of bringing food and supplies to places where there are few or no resources. Here are some photos of the kids they help.
The World Food Program provides school meals for nearly 20 million children in 70 countries around the world every year.
For the price of a cup of coffee, or a donation of $1.50, you could feed a child for a week. For $50, an entire year. This is not fancy food. It means rice, or porridge, but it's what they can access, and it may help their brains work better than nothing.
If I told you I could relate to this kind of existence, I'd be lying, but lately I feel that it's important that I try. (Dresden can speak more intelligently and personally about food and financial insecurity than I can, so I suggest you read her on a regular basis, honestly.) Because if I had babies, or parents, or siblings, or anyone in my charge whom I literally could not feed, I don't know the depths of despair that would descend upon me, or what I would do to make that happen, but I imagine it would be beyond the scope of what I currently envision for myself, so far beyond an seemingly-inconvenient trip to the grocery store.
If this resonates at all for you, please learn more about the World Food Program's Fill the Cup project, and add it to your short list of organizations that may warrant some of your support. I know that times are tight economically (believe me, do I know.) My friend Jess and her kids put their household spare change to work to send $27, which means half a year of food for someone. It doesn't take a lot, just a lot of someones, and it really does add up. I have my cup on my desk, and when I get in from working at the restaurant where I'm currently filling in some financial blanks, I throw my change in there. I'll convert it in January and see how much I can send.