If you want to lessen hunger in the world, look around you. Many cities have some types of food distribution programs and/or "soup kitchens" (places where people can go for a meal). You can support these programs, or if your area does not have them, perhaps you can become involved in getting them started. If you prefer even more direct action, you can "adopt" (figuratively speaking) an elderly person or persons, and/or a family. In every community there are people who need help—just look or ask around, and you will find them.
If you go on vacation in another country, you may want to meet some of the residents of its small villages, and spend some of your money into their local economies instead of just spending it all at a modern hotel in a big city. Your life will be enriched by the experience, to say nothing of learning a whole lot more about life and other cultures than you would back at the hotel! When you return home to the U.S., you will know someone real that you can send a "care package" to now and then (clothes or household items, etc.). This is easy to do, and a needy family in an impoverished area will really appreciate your thoughtfulness. When you send a package directly to someone you know abroad, you'll know exactly what they need and "who is getting what"—when funds are sent to "traditional" charitable organizations, they keep something for their operating expenses, and you may not be as sure about how much finally reaches anyone, or how the money is actually being used. (I once saw a group asking for more money "to provide medicine for children". They'd be better off with fruit or other fresh food, and clothing!) I went with friends to a tiny village on the Mexican seacoast once, and every few days we brought boxes of fruit and vegetables for the family we stayed with; each time, the next day there'd scarcely be a banana left over—the children loved fruit. Unfortunately, if we'd just handed money to their father, he'd have probably gotten a few bottles of liquor since he liked to drink—we just brought food and other things like laundry soap, batteries, candles—things the family used daily. (We did give Mom some money now and then; she used it for the family.) The day we left, we tucked a 1,000-peso bill into her hand. At the exchange rate then, this only amounted to about 10 dollars for us (an easy gesture), but for a woman who didn't work outside the home (there were no paying jobs for women in their village), this was like a windfall (it would also go further there than its equivalent $10 would go here in the United States).
Along with many beautiful memories, this was the gift these people gave to me: the chance to be on the giving end for a change, to feel as if I could actually make some difference in someone else's life—as much a gift to me as anything I could have ever given them. For we are truly fortunate when we are able to give, and this also means giving of ourselves as well as of our possessions. When we reach out to other members of our human family abroad, we draw our world family closer, we strengthen the bonds. We exchange a mutual gift, that of increased understanding, and of a vision of a world in greater harmony. We are indeed brothers and sisters—our mirrored smiles tell us this, even when we "don't speak the same language", At last we become real to each other.
Another note on the joy of being able to give to people wherever we may be: someone once told me that members of the so-called "beggar caste" of India also had their "special life purpose", their purpose being to allow others to be givers (the givers thus being given a chance to enhance their own spirituality by an act of giving). This concept returns the dignity owed these "beggars" as human beings; it sees beauty in every person.
Come to think of it, I remember the strategy used by some elderly women in the marketplace of Casablanca, Morocco, one that was quite ingenious. When the vendor gave you your change and you reached out for it, you'd suddenly be aware of another hand stretched out alongside your own, making it a bit awkward to "pretend you didn't have any money" (to say the least), but at least you were guaranteed an immediate increase in your level of spirituality!
When you are at home, remember too, as we said, that hunger may be as close as a mile from your house.
Pressure your local leaders to take real action against hunger. Sometimes "surplus" food is just held in storage, or even dumped—I once saw a news item on TV showing perfectly good oranges being dumped to "keep prices normal" (they didn't want too many oranges to "flood" the market!). It is immoral to keep this food from hungry people.
Another way to alleviate hunger around you may be as close as a few friends who live on a tight budget—invite them over more often for meals. Share the harvest.
If you can't find someone who is hungry, you aren't really looking. Remember, most people are much too proud to ask or tell you, so you need to be aware and sensitive to others' needs.
Years ago I was staying in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, in a small boarding house, and a young woman lived in the room next door with her three children. Every day she went to work and, although the landlady (who lived downstairs) looked in on them now and then, the little four-year-old girl was really in charge of her younger brother and sister. Once I saw her peel potatoes, light the gas burner on the stove, and fry them, and I must admit, it was the first time I'd ever seen a four-year-old cooking completely on her own. One day I went in to offer her an apple and she said no. Three times I offered it, to no avail. When I went back to my room and mentioned this to my roommate, she said, "just go in there and set it on her table". I was skeptical, having assumed the child just didn't want the apple, but I did so anyway. A minute later she'd finished eating it.
The "moral" of this story is, not only will some people not ask for anything, but they may even refuse something you offer, because they "don't want to be a burden to you". When you ask "do you want this?" or "do you need this?", they're very likely just to say no, out of pride, whether they do or not. So, keep your eyes open and assess the situation. The idea is not to make someone feel like they are accepting "charity"—no one really wants to be in this position. There's always a way around these delicate situations. Let the person know that you "have extra and can't possibly eat it all yourself," i.e., they're doing you a favor by taking it off your hands. There's a subtle difference.
The following was excerpted from Mother Jones magazine (September/October 1981), by Loretta Schwartz-Nobel:
"I found her by accident, trying to crawl out of her doorway and down the broken concrete steps in an effort to get food. She was 84 and living alone in an abandoned house in Philadelphia. That afternoon in 1974 I went with my seven-year-old daughter Rebekah to our local supermarket and bought food for Mrs. Roca. In the months that followed it became a habit to take several bags of groceries to her each Saturday afternoon. Rebekah thought of it as the best part of our week. Another woman, Julia, also in her 80s, lived nearby. Once she had tried to go to a local supermarket, but tripped and fell in the gutter, and lay there until a little boy stopped and helped her. The next time she tried, someone grabbed the bag of groceries on her way home and ran off."
I saw a TV documentary one night on the elderly in Chicago—some of them were being shuttled to and from the store in a bus because they were such easy targets for muggers. These people helped to build our country, and this is their "retirement dream"—these are their "golden years"—having to go to the store in a group because it is dangerous to attempt it alone.
A young boy interviewed on TV discussed his way of helping others—one night he saw a documentary on "street people" of his city, and asked his parents to take him to see them. They were a bit hesitant, but did so. Now he checks on the street people daily, bringing food, clothes, and so on. (In fact, other people began leaving boxes of things at his house, too, for distribution.) This boy sees these people as people, not "street people," and his father said that, while an adult keeps a distance, his son would touch these people or hug them—he now knows all the "regulars" there by name. A man on the street wrote a letter that was read on the show, and he sums it all up better than I ever could:
"One day I was so tired of living that I decided to end it all. Then something happened—that day I looked up into the eyes of a young boy, who smiled at me and handed me a blanket. That day, not only did I fall in love with this child, but I fell in love with life again, because my faith in humanity was restored."
Unless we've known true hunger and need, it's difficult to understand what it's really like to "live on the edge," but we can be sure of one thing: every morsel of food we give to anyone, in nourishing a fellow being, adds to life, and what can we do on this earth that is of greater purpose and joy, than to add to life? Let's recall, in our humility, that each morsel of food given to us by life and the powers that be is a miracle—we are all receivers as well as givers—we should never take this miracle for granted.