Many of us have our own personal causes: it might be to volunteer at a local nonprofit, fight cancer, rescue animals, spend less time on devices (but if this one is yours, stick with me until you read this).
My personal cause came to me initially as a professional opportunity. It quickly changed into something much more, though. My cause is helping to end food insecurity, or simply put, hunger.
A few years ago, the Vermont Foodbank asked if I would consider being on its board. I agreed; the other board members were smart, exceptionally well-respected members of the community, the Foodbank was a well-run, effective non-profit, and I would be able to learn a little something. Boy, was that an understatement.
What I learned is that the Vermont Foodbank serves 153,000 people through its network every year. When you consider that Vermont has a total population of 626,000, that’s a lot of people who need food. Almost 34,000 are children. 26,000 are over the age of 60. And 12,000 are veterans.
While they’re important, statistics can quickly drown someone in numbers. What struck me more were the stories.
One was in relation to the Foodbank’s BackPack Program. This program is one many Foodbanks around the country have. How it works is schools request to be a part of the program; when they join, nurses or guidance counselors or another school employee who knows a child is hungry will pack a nondescript backpack filled with food from the Foodbank and give it to that child on Friday afternoon. The food in the pack often is the only food that the child and usually his or her family will have for an entire weekend. One little girl in kindergarten shared that she was so grateful for the backpack because she was able to provide for her family.
When a five year old is relieved because she herself can put some food in her family’s cabinets, it makes me appreciate the work of the Foodbank and food shelves. But it also reminds me that I should never take a full pantry for granted.
Other stories I’ve heard totally dispel the misperception that lazy people use the services of the Foodbank. Far too often working families are making ends meet only to have an unexpected twist of fate throw them into a tailspin. It could include the loss of a job, or the diagnosis of a life-threatening disease, or just the simple cost of living day to day. Some people need to make the choice between paying for food or medicine. Paying for food or paying for heat. Paying for food or paying rent.
These are choices no one should have to make. I’m not going to reveal my political affiliation here, but as one of the most prosperous countries on this earth, I don’t think any child should go to school and be unable to focus because they haven’t eaten since the day before. No senior should have to choose their prescriptions over a healthy meal. This isn’t right but it is what happens, every day, to people you might even know.
I was interested in this cause at first as a learning opportunity but now I see it as a mission. I signed my family up to volunteer at our local food shelf. We donate food every week, including pet food since pets are members of the family, too. And I tell the stories I shared above to help educate and inform anyone and everyone who will listen.
If nothing else, I hope my mission can help end hunger in Vermont. I can’t do it alone and thankfully there are many people who share my mission. And that’s the beauty of having a cause. When it’s shared, it becomes a movement, and that’s when amazing things can happen.