Give thanks with acts of kindness

On this Thanksgiving, donate food or volunteer your time to help those less fortunate, says Donna Brazile.

Story highlights

  • Donna Brazile: Millions of Americans are living in poverty and hunger
  • Brazile: As we celebrate Thanksgiving, we can do more to help the less fortunate
  • She says you can volunteer at your local food bank or help with a food drive
  • Brazile: Let's give thanks with acts of goodness and kindness, appropriate to the day

When the Dow Jones Industrial Average topped 16,000 earlier this month, headlines throughout the country trumpeted the milestone as a sign of recovery for the economy.

Away from Wall Street, among the working poor in America's suburbs, small towns and larger metropolitan areas, the trumpets of a thriving economy do not sound. What we too often hear in the back streets and even on some main streets is the drumbeat of the desperate, or the plaintive strings of hope postponed.

Eventually, the jobs will come. Knowing the resilience of America, sooner than the naysayers expect or the obstructionists would like. We are a nation of workers. Let there be work and we will do the work.

Until the jobs come, though, and even with some of the jobs -- minimum wage, and even above, that do not pay enough to cover the necessities -- people are still hungry. Many people have been hungry for a long time.

Donna Brazile

Unsurprisingly, the recession ushered in with it an increase of people (70% since 2007) being served by the U.S. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps. A recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau tells us that a record 46.2 million Americans were living in poverty in 2011. That's more than 1 in every 7 Americans.

On November 1, families throughout the country felt the sting of at least $5 billion in cuts to the food stamp program, cuts that arrived with the expiration of the boost it received in the 2009 stimulus package. To make matters even worse, proposals in Congress would make additional cuts to the food stamp program, perhaps as much as $40 billion.

Where in God's heaven is the safety net?

    The Dow's record notwithstanding, clearly millions of Americans, many of them children, continue to struggle and go hungry. As we celebrate Thanksgiving 2013, things also look bleaker for the 49 million Americans who experience hunger.

    Typically, I pause at this time of the year to praise the work being done by the people and organizations on the front lines in the fight against hunger. I also encourage all of us, especially young people, to stand up and volunteer or chip in now and through the rest of the year.

    I am doing so again this year. Yes, please donate your extra canned goods, baked goods, money, time or whatever you can spare.

    But this year I want to add something. A perspective. A call to action. An act of faith.

    Let me begin with a perspective. There's a haunting poem by Emily Dickinson titled, "I had been hungry all the years." I won't quote it in full -- I can't do it justice here. But the second stanza so captures the feeling of hunger, and the emotional emptiness that follows, that I must share it with you:

    T'was this on tables I had seen

    When turning, hungry, lone,

    I looked in windows, for the wealth

    I could not hope to own.

    What must it be like to be outside looking in, not at a table of steak and wine, but at a bench of bread and water, and not have the pennies to enter there?

    So this year I will ask you to add something, by volunteering at your local food bank or helping with a food drive in your community. This year, I also ask that you take the time to deliver a message to your state lawmakers, city councilor or member of Congress on behalf of the millions of people in our country who go hungry. The message is your own, but make sure the elected leaders hear from you that a nation so rich can do better for its poorest citizens.

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    Hunger has no ideology. It does not respond to party or to rant. Hunger, in short, is not a red state/blue state problem. According to Feeding America, hunger rates are the worst in Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, Alabama, North Carolina and Georgia. They are followed immediately by North Carolina, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio and California.

    Hunger in America is an American problem. The hunger of one should be the concern of all. Especially the hunger of children -- our children.

    Speaking of children, we have spent a lot of energy in recent years demanding more of our schools, our teachers and our students. Rightfully so, for if our nation is going to be globally competitive, these are improvements we have to make. But consider for a moment that as many as 16 million of our young people go to school uncertain of where or whether they will have dinner. We are asking them to think, but what can they think about if they have no food? We are asking them to learn, but how can they learn on a constantly empty stomach?

    Thursday is Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was, and is, an act of faith -- in fellowship, in God's providence, in tolerance. But faith is nothing if it is only words, or confined to a sentiment. We must give thanks with more than words. We must give thanks with acts -- acts of goodness and kindness, appropriate to the day.

    We must share the harvest.