Unless you are directly
affected by it, the problem of hunger is often hard to see. But with nearly 50
million Americans, including nearly 18 million children, living in food insecure
households, unsure where their next meal is coming from, the problem of hunger
is more pervasive than we can even imagine.
Hunger is also a global
problem. There are approximately 842 million undernourished people in the world
today. That means one in eight people do not get enough food to be healthy and
lead an active life. Hunger and malnutrition are, in fact, the number one risk
to health worldwide - greater than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.
Closer to home, hunger is a local problem. Food insecurity exists in every
county in America, including Cook County. More than 860,000 people in Cook
County-1 in 6 people-are food insecure.
The Jewish community is not
untouched. Thousands of Jews in Chicago rely on food programs and assistance to
get by each year. Approximately 30,000 Jews in Chicago fall below 200 percent of
federal poverty levels, which equates to $44,000 for a family of four, and about
a third of those individuals are over the age of 65. A significant number of the
over 6,000 Holocaust survivors in the Chicago area live below the poverty line
and receive financial assistance for food and medication.
As the prophet
Isaiah says, "If you offer your compassion to the hungry and satisfy the
famished creature, then shall your light shine in darkness." Hunger is a Jewish
issue, as is caring for the needs of vulnerable populations in our society.
JUF and its agencies are already doing much to assist the needy in
Chicago and around the world. Nearly 5,000 local Jews are sustained through
daily or weekly JUF-funded food programs. Last year, JUF-funded agencies served
half a million meals to local Jews in need-enough to feed the combined
populations of West Rogers Park, Evanston, Skokie, Buffalo Grove, Arlington
Heights, and Naperville. JUF-funded agencies also provided more than 19,000 bags
or boxes of groceries to help fight local Jewish hunger-enough for every man,
woman and child in Deerfield. And the needs are increasing: JUF-funded agencies
provided food bags and grocery cards to twice as many people in 2012 as in 2008.
JUF, along with our partners, helps feed vulnerable populations in the
former Soviet Union, Israel, and around the world. Solving hunger and nutrition
issues increases productivity and betters the economy, creating additional
economic opportunities for citizens and businesses. Solving childhood hunger
will produce more educated and talented adults. Solving worldwide hunger is a
path to peace and stability.
But we can do more. And we need your
The JUF Hunger Awareness Project was initiated to give all
of us the opportunity to engage in the fight against this devastating issue
affecting every community in America. We invite you to learn more, volunteer,
and participate in JUF-sponsored programs throughout the year. (For
opportunities, see sidebar on p. 20.)
Coming up next is one of the ways
you can get personally involved: by taking the SNAP Challenge (formerly known as
the Food Stamp Challenge), on Nov. 20-27 and this comin March 7-14.
(Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) provides access to food for 45
million Americans in need, and it is critical to the vulnerable populations
JUF-funded agencies serve. For instance, some seniors who receive assistance
from CJE SeniorLife and are struggling to make ends meet would not be able to
eat if they did not receive SNAP benefits. Even with SNAP assistance, some
seniors are still unable to meet their needs and must seek out food donations,
including through the Dina & Eli Field EZRA Multi-Service
Center, Maot Chitim, or The ARK.
Taking the SNAP Challenge involves living
on the average SNAP food budget of just $31.50 for one week-a scant $1.50 per
meal. That sum may seem paltry (for an insider's look, see SNAP Challenge
sidebar), but it is about to decrease even more: the 2009 Recovery Act's
temporary boost to SNAP benefits is scheduled to end on Nov. 1, resulting in a
benefit cut for every SNAP household. A recently passed bill in the House of
Representatives proposes cutting an additional nearly $40 billion from the
program over the next 10 years. Taking the SNAP Challenge allows us to glimpse
the experience of millions of Americans struggling to put food on the table each
As we sit down with our families and loved ones this year at
Thanksgiving and Chanukkah for turkey and latkes, let us remember those who are
spending their holidays going without and those who do not have enough to eat
all year long. Let us pledge to do better and to do more in the upcoming year to
make sure that no one goes hungry.
For more information and to sign up for
these programs, please visit www.juf.org/hunger. To learn more about hunger and
receive frequent updates, follow JCRC on Twitter:
Stephanie Sklar is Director of Domestic Affairs for the Jewish Community
Relations Council of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of