Not long after the last trick-or-treater has spirited into the darkness, many Americans turn their attention to the next holiday tradition – festive meal planning. What recipes are worth trying? Who is going to visit? How many mouths will we need to feed?
But for many in our community, upcoming food-centric holidays are less about what to roast, bake or glaze. Instead, it’s often just another day struggling to put any food on the table.
“Our hunger-fighting programs are running strong throughout the holiday season and beyond to ensure that our neighbors who are food insecure can enjoy wholesome meals with the people that matter most to them,” said Doug Pick, Feed More president and CEO. “The holiday season is an especially busy time, and our dedicated staff and volunteers make it all possible.”
How the need has changed
Since early 2020, COVID-19 has made a bad problem even worse.
According to Pick, the pandemic has caused food insecurity rates to skyrocket over the past two years, and the most vulnerable have been hit hard.
“During the first six weeks of spring 2020, we saw a 50% increase in food insecure individuals across our service area over the previous year,” Pick said. “It has abated somewhat, but we’re still faced with approximately 22,000 additional neighbors who are experiencing hunger this year when compared to 2019, with 7,250 of those being children. We all need to ensure that they have enough to eat this holiday season.”
Virginia-based Mercy Chefs has had a food-focused mission for 15 years, feeding those affected by natural disasters. And just as the pandemic has been a disaster of sorts that has intensified hunger insecurities, the past two hurricane seasons have devasted coastal communities in the United States.
In November 2020, Mercy Chef Founder Gary LeBlanc and his team helped serve Thanksgiving meals to a devasted community in Louisiana that was still reeling from a series of hurricanes that pummeled its community. This year, Mercy Chefs will return to communities in Louisiana and Tennessee that were impacted by disasters in 2021 to serve meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
How you can help
Easy, donations of time or money – and donations of goods are always appreciated.
For example, this year, LeBlanc and the Mercy Chefs team have launched their #HopeForTheHolidays campaign. A single $20 donation gives a family of four a chef-prepared holiday meal to families in communities impacted by Hurricane Ida. Additionally, you can cook like a Mercy Chefs team member by purchasing this signature spice blend, with the proceeds going back to support Mercy Chefs’ mission.
“Community support is always essential to how we operate as an organization, particularly during the holidays and especially this year, where the Thanksgiving meal is predicted to be the most expensive meal in the history of the holiday, which impacts our expenses,” LeBlanc said.
But if you’re looking to contribute food to a pantry, foodbank or other organization, look for nutritious, shelf-stable staple items like lean canned protein, canned fruits and veggies, tomato products, peanut butter, beans, pastas and other whole grains. It’s a bonus if you find canned products that have pull tabs opposed to ones that require a can opener. You also can volunteer time to help manage the intake of donations or even cook and prepare meals.
“Our staff, volunteers and partner agencies are working harder than ever to meet the need, but they can’t do it alone,” Pick said. “The holiday season is a time for giving back, and whether it’s through a fundraiser, food drive or a volunteer shift, our community’s incredible generosity is invaluable as we continue working to provide the emergency food assistance that our neighbors need.”
Looking ahead, these organizations need year-round support to help our communities recover from whatever barriers they’re experiencing that affect their ability to put nutritious meals on the table.
“We’re also looking for more folks who can join our volunteering ranks on an ongoing basis, especially as we head into 2022,” Pick said. “It’s as easy as spending a few hours of your time each month preparing meals in our Community Kitchen or delivering food to homebound community members with Meals on Wheels, but it can make a huge difference in the lives of your neighbors in need.”
At the time of this posting, Mercy Chefs is a client of The Hodges Partnership.