Yup, changing topics today. Because I recently found out about ConAgra Food’s Child Hunger Ends Here campaign.

As a child who was hungry a lot–or just eating the same thing over and over–this strikes a serious nerve with me. Especially when I entered a code and started exploring the rest of the website. It lists how many children face child hunger in my state, then it lists how many codes have been entered in my state. Some simple math told me that with the amount of codes entered in my state, there are enough codes entered to give one meal to less than 9% of the children facing hunger in Maine.

ConAgra Food brands that may have codes on them (taken from the Child Hunger Ends Here website) are:
Healthy Choice
Peter Pan
Orville Redenbacher
Marie Callender’s
Chef Boyardee
Hunt’s
Snack Pack
Manwich
Kid Cuisine
Crunch ‘n Munch
Rosarita
Van Camp’s
Wolf Brand Chili
Blue Bonnet
Egg Beaters
Pam
RediWhip
Ultragrain
Banquet

In the event that some of you (hopefully many of you–I hate when other people have been in bad situations) don’t know what childhood hunger in the United States looks like, let me tell you a bit about what it looked like for me. We had many times growing up that we had bags of popcorn for a meal, buttered or plain pasta several days in a row, etc. And the Ramen! Since I left my parents’ house for college, I have alternated times of craving Ramen and times of being nauseated by Ramen–and, actually, sometimes both, when I would crave it but be nauseated before I was done eating it–because I ate it SO much growing up.

We would get creative, too. Pasta with various spices and some olive oil mixed in. Sounds good, right? It’d be great with a salad and maybe some chicken. But no, I’m talking an entire meal of seasoned starch. And boxed mashed potatoes can be prepared without butter or milk if necessary, and still seasoned to be at least palatable. If there was a can of corn somewhere, hallelujah! That was a delicious meal! And would you like to know what Hamburger Helper tastes like without any meat? Let’s just say, I wouldn’t recommend it. The flavor comes out significantly stronger and slightly different. But hey, it was something to eat.

Yes, we had a food pantry–at least one–near us. Eventually, when we were down to eating sugar out of the bag (no, we never had to do that, though I think my brother did it voluntarily, but it’s about where we were) my mother would say, “I guess I’m gonna have to break down and go to the food pantry.” Actually, I remember hearing her say this for at least a week or more before she finally would do it. When she finally went, there was finally food in the house. I went with her a few times. She would fill out a form saying our income and how many people were in our house. And then people would give us bags of food. Generic cans of sauce, apple sauce, and vegetables. Bags of sliced bread and jars of peanut butter. We knew how to spice the sauce and apple sauce (since none of it had spices) but the peanut butter was something else. It was like eating oil in a peanut texture. I think that’s how peanut butter-and-sugar sandwiches were born in our house, actually.

No, my life wasn’t like this the entire time I was growing up. We went through cycles. My parents didn’t budget the money, so one month we’d squeak by, another month we’d splurge on tons of groceries but may or may not get all the rent paid, and another it seemed like we had nothing for anything. We got reduced lunch at school, and sometimes didn’t even have the 35 cents for lunch money. I don’t really know what happened with the money to make the months so variable. But I do know that when we had lots of food in the house, we didn’t know how to “budget” the food either, and would eat about 3 weeks’ worth in a week or so. Then we had nothing again.

So all I’m saying with all of that is this: it’s not a perfect system. I’m not sure what a perfect system would be. In our case, we wouldn’t have been without food if my parents budgeted properly. (And believe me, people tried to help them do that.) We also wouldn’t have been without food if my mother had been willing to go to the food pantry more regularly. And to be honest, we were very rarely completely without food. But there were times I was willing to miss a meal rather than eat plain pasta or boxed mashed potatoes again. And there were most definitely times when we could have had food if we were willing to bake a cake. Literally. Marie-Antoinette jokes notwithstanding.

But right now, I’m not able to offer any perfect solution. This is not a political post about how to fix this. This is just a post of awareness, to let you know that ConAgra Food is doing something to try to fix this by partnering with Feeding America. In fact, The Pampered Chef has partnered with Feeding America in their own way, so you could do more through them too. Because no, this won’t actually end childhood hunger as long as there are parents who won’t do what they need to do and go get the food available for them to get. But if you buy a ConAgra brand and enter one code to give one child one meal, that’s something.

Additional note: please take an interest in people. I don’t know who I would be or where I would be today without the many people who took an interest, and even though they couldn’t take me from my parents’ house (though several did make phone calls to try to get some intervention), they at least took me out to meals, bought me food, and just showed me that they cared. There are children without much to eat but with very loving and nurturing parents who sacrifice to make sure the children have something. But there are way too many children whose parents do not nurture them, perhaps even neglect them entirely, and this is why they have no food. They’re all over the place, in cities and small towns. If you encounter one, if you have an opportunity to provide some small amount of the missing nurture, please do. It can change two lives–yours and theirs.

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