This Mother’s Day, I’m reminded of an important life lesson that my mother taught me when I was a girl. A former high school physical education teacher, my mother taught me that one of the secrets to living a long life is to eat plenty of healthy, nutritious foods. “Eat your veggies and don’t forget the fruit. Enjoy healthy meals. Get plenty of sleep,” she’d sing to close out our Girl Scout meetings. “We’ll see you next Friday. Goodbye ‘til we meet!”
Many years later, I’ve taken to teaching a similar song to my own grandchildren —hoping to pass along my mother’s wisdom to the next generation of young people. Yet alarmingly, an increasing number of mothers around the world don’t have the luxury of passing on such a life lesson.
According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than 800 million people did not have enough to eat in 2021 — an increase of 150 million people since 2019, and the highest number of hungry people in the world since 2010.
In Pennsylvania alone, an astounding 1 in 8 children are food insecure. The global food crisis has been made worse by soaring inflation due to the war in Ukraine as well as factors like conflict and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In countries like Zimbabwe, food prices have jumped nearly 300%.
I can’t imagine how painful it must be for a mother to be unable to access enough food to keep her children healthy. Moreover, as someone who directed outreach and expansion efforts for child nutrition programs for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, I saw firsthand how a lack of food impacts a child’s well-being. I recall children who would show up to school looking tired and lethargic. It wasn’t until they were provided a healthy breakfast that they were able to concentrate and learn.
There is good news that starts with us. There are many things we can do to help hungry families here and abroad.
First, we can encourage members of Congress to reauthorize the United States Farm Bill, which is set to expire in September.
Up for reauthorization every five years, the Farm Bill includes programs that help alleviate hunger such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides food assistance to low-income Americans, and the McGovern-Dole Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, which provides food assistance to schools in developing countries. The Farm Bill reauthorization is an exciting moment for Congressional leaders to come together and demonstrate America’s recommitment towards ending hunger and malnutrition.
Other ways Philadelphians can help those struggling with hunger include volunteering at their local food bank, soup kitchen, or donating to an organization that is working to alleviate hunger, such as Nutritional Development Services, an agency of the archdiocese, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary of serving families in the Philadelphia area.
Philadelphians can also support global humanitarian and development organizations like Catholic Relief Services that supports families with food and nutrition programming in places like Honduras and Somalia.
People can also make small changes to reduce their food waste by planning meals in advance and composting food scraps.
Hunger is a complex issue that will take time to solve. But it is a problem that we can and should do something about.
Only by working together can we ensure that every child on Earth has access to enough food to thrive.
What a Mother’s Day gift that would be!
Anne H. Ayella is the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Director for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and served for 36 years as the Director of Community Relations for Nutritional Development Services, an agency of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
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