Volunteer This Holiday Season to End Hunger
By Beth W. Orenstein
The holidays are a popular time of year for food drives across the country. "Many Americans kindly donate money and food during the holidays to charitable organizations engaged in the fight to end hunger," says Christine Rivera, RD, nutrition manager at Feeding America, the nation's largest domestic hunger relief organization. And this generosity of people creates a great opportunity for dietitians, Rivera says.
RDs are needed to help organize incoming food donations, distribute food to families, raise funds, and provide diet and nutrition education as well as other services during the holiday season. In addition, dietitians are needed to help raise awareness of food insecurity within their communities and educate local businesses, community leaders, and the general public about the types of food people want to receive that will improve overall health and wellness.
Carol DeNysschen, PhD, MPH, RD, CDN, FAND, is a board member of the Food Bank of WNY in Buffalo, New York, where she works on the agency service committee and volunteers year-round to educate the public on ways to end food waste, and participates in food drives and fundraising activities. The holidays, however, inspire her to do even more. As an associate health, nutrition, and dietetics professor at Buffalo State College, SUNY, she participates in the children's Christmas party and warm winter clothing drive sponsored by the local Rotary club. As a faculty advisor to the Buffalo State Rotaract Club, she makes meals for the Ronald McDonald House of Buffalo. She also helps raise funds by holding raffle drawings and provides gift baskets to the Food Bank of WNY.
DeNysschen is able to serve as an educator to both college students and the community and give back to those who are less fortunate. You might see her offering workshops or presentations to students, athletes, adults, families, teenagers with cancer, teachers, and "just about any member of the community who could use some nutrition education," she says. "I have even more time during the holidays to volunteer, and, more importantly, you won't get the feeling of satisfaction that you receive by helping mankind in any other activity—including clothes shopping or getting a manicure." Volunteering gives people what everyone should strive to be, she says: "A purposeful addition to society."
RDs are in a unique position to volunteer to help end food insecurity, Rivera says, because they can help implement nutrition education and establish nutrition polices and guidelines at the local and state level to increase access to food for those in need. A 2014 Feeding America survey found that 79% of its food bank clients buy inexpensive and unhealthful foods because they need to make ends meet. However, these clients want access to healthier foods. The most desired items when visiting a food bank are fresh fruits and vegetables (55%), protein options (47%), and dairy products (40%), the survey found. Dietitians can play an important role by encouraging healthful food donations any time of the year and help food bank recipients learn how to prepare healthful meals for their families, Rivera says.
The following organizations welcome the help of dietitians this holiday season to organize food contributions, distribute food, educate families about diet and nutrition, and more:
Feeding America's mission is to feed America's hungry through a nationwide network of nearly 200 member food banks and engage the country in the fight to end hunger. To find a food bank in your area, visit www.feedingamerica.org/find-your-local-foodbank.
Dietitians can repackage donated food for use at food pantries, and transport food to charitable agencies.
Action Against Hunger
Action Against Hunger works to save the lives of malnourished children while providing communities with access to safe water and solutions to hunger. Ninety-three cents out of every dollar donated goes directly to its programs in the field, says Jorge Taveras, online marketing manager. "We have been a top-rated nonprofit by Charity Navigator [an independent American nonprofit corporation that evaluates charities in the United States] for the ninth straight year," he says.
RDs can get involved this holiday season by purchasing gifts from its holiday gift catalog to provide lifesaving assistance to communities. For example, $45 buys emergency therapeutic food, $280 supports women against violence training, and $1,485 purchases 1,000 days of child care for those in need. Every gift comes with a personalized e-card to say the gift was purchased in the recipient's honor. Donations also can be made at www.actionagainsthunger.org/give.
Meals on Wheels America
Meals on Wheels America operates in virtually every community across the country through its network of more than 5,000 independently run local programs. Each program is committed to supporting seniors and enabling them to live healthier and more nourished lives in their homes.
In addition to financial donations, volunteers are needed to do the following:
• help prepare and pack meals and deliver them to homes;
• provide professional, clerical, and administrative help in its offices;
• perform safety checks on seniors between visits; and
• organize and publicize fundraising events.
For information on how dietitians can volunteer, visit www.mealsonwheelsamerica.org/take-action/volunteer.
The Hunger Project
The mission of The Hunger Project is to end hunger and poverty by pioneering sustainable, grassroots, women-centered strategies in rural villages around the world. The Hunger Project teaches poor communities how to provide for themselves and live healthier lives and gives them the tools to do so.
Volunteers sometimes are needed to design logos for volunteer groups, research supporting statistics, translate stories of Hunger Project programs around the globe in English, French, Portuguese, and other languages, and more. Virtually all of its volunteer activist opportunities focus on outreach and fundraising for its programs.
Dietitians can participate in fundraising online; host a virtual or live informational reception at their office, home, or place of worship; send customized e-mails and be a part of a team that invites friends and colleagues to learn about The Hunger Project; and help add friends and colleagues to its e-mail list.
For more information about how to get involved, contact Supriya.Banavalikar@thp.org or visit http://thp.org/get-involved/volunteer.
— Beth W. Orenstein is a freelance writer based in Northampton, Pennsylvania.