By Dr. Va Lecia Adams Kellum
It’s November, a time when we look forward to Thanksgiving and the chance to gather with friends and family for good food and warm company. We’re lucky here in Southern California, because the odds are good that we will get a nice helping of sunshine with our turkey.
But there are other things that are far less sunny: More than 8,500 families are homeless each night in Los Angeles County. Nearly half a million children go to school hungry.
November 16 – 24 was National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, a perfect time to bring awareness to this crisis in our city. Here at St. Joseph Center, we know firsthand that hunger and homelessness are unfortunate bedfellows. The high cost of housing can lead families to forgo meals, which leads to chronic hunger. Many struggling families must make agonizing choices between feeding their children or paying the rent. It’s easy to see how this kind of vulnerability contributes to people falling into homelessness.
And homeless children are often hungry children – they are twice as likely to experience hunger as their non-homeless peers. In Los Angeles County, it is estimated that more than 18,000 hungry and homeless children attend our schools. These children are also more likely to suffer from anemia and asthma. Their physical development can be impaired. They have much higher rates of tooth decay and gum disease. At school, they fall behind their peers both academically and socially because childhood hunger is directly related to lower test scores.
We need to come together as a community to tackle hunger and homelessness.
That’s why we are proud to announce that St. Joseph Center has been selected to receive a five million dollar grant from Jeff Bezos’ Day 1 Families Fund. We plan to use this generous in-vestment to establish a new hub for families experiencing homelessness that will provide both much-needed bridge housing as well as supportive services such as mental health treatment and job training so families can return to self-sufficiency as quickly as possible.
While very few of us have the resources of Jeff Bezos, there are things that each of us can do to alleviate hunger and homelessness, not only during this week but throughout the year. There are so many ways we can all chip in to help!
• Support your local food pantry and food bank: St. Joseph Center’s Food Pantry is de-signed like a neighborhood market so shoppers can choose what’s best for their families. We stock staples like eggs, butter, milk, and bread but also more expensive foods that are the first things to go when money gets tight, like fresh fruits and vegetables. A weekly trip to our Pantry saves $200 a month that can be used to cover rent or other expenses. Our Pantry’s single biggest partner and food source is the Westside Food Bank, located in Santa Monica. In fact, there are over 700 food pantries in Los Angeles County. Give to any and help struggling families to stay in their homes.
• Donate your time and knowledge: At St. Joseph Center, volunteers are so important. You can help shoppers at our Food Pantry or lend your expertise by teaching seminars in our job training programs on financial literacy, legal rights, and health and wellness. We are so grateful to our volunteers – we couldn’t do the work we do without their help. To volunteer at St. Joseph Center’s Food Pantry, contact Shelly Aydin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• If your family has children, inspire empathy at home: Talk about homelessness and hunger and how we can all help. Start a donation jar and decorate it with your kids. Host a lemonade stand or birthday party where guest bring donations instead of gifts and then make a contribution to local organizations who are working to lessen hunger and homelessness.
• For adults: Host a cocktail party where donations go to your favorite non-profit. Have a garage sale and earmark the proceeds for advocacy organizations that fight hunger, like Share Our Strength and Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger.
Finally, be an advocate for the people experiencing homelessness! Write your councilperson, state senator, or representatives in Congress. Tell them you want more action on homeless-ness and hunger. Tell them you want resources earmarked for affordable housing and hunger reduction. Tell them you don’t want any of your neighbors to worry about where they will sleep or how they will get their next meal.
In this time of giving thanks, let’s also start working together now to make our city a place where everyone can thrive. A community where no child goes to bed with a rumbling tummy, and where no family must make the heart-wrenching decision to pay for food or rent. Join St. Joseph Center this holiday season in committing to ending hunger and homelessness in our community.
Va Lecia Adams Kellum is President & CEO at St. Joseph Center, which has been helping children and adults find solutions to hunger, homelessness and poverty since 1976.