Giving thanks by giving food and nutrition

December 17, 2003|by LYNN F. LITTLE

The holidays are a time for generosity, and gifts of food are always welcome by those in need. Food gifts can shift the focus from holiday overeating to sharing with those who may not have enough to eat.

There are many ways to give nourishing gifts of food. Gifts of food may fit every wish list and every pocketbook. There are ways to give close to home and ways to give far away. Some ways require cash, while others require only time and caring.

Although giving now is wonderful, we all know that need knows no season. Perhaps your most important gift can be the commitment to give throughout 2004.

The most direct way to make a nutrition donation is to invite someone to share food with you - in your home, in their home or at a restaurant. Consider an invitation to someone who has limited income, limited mobility or limited social contacts.


Another idea is to adopt a grandparent. Many older people live alone, and their own families may be far away during the holidays. Invite an older person to lunch or visit a local nursing home to socialize with residents during their mealtime.

Grocery shopping can be a major chore for someone with a disability. Shopping is even more difficult when the weather is bad, when stores are crowded, or when people don't have a car. Offer to take someone grocery shopping or shop for them. Consider a regular appointment to ensure that someone has access to fresh foods all year long, including summer trips to the farmer's market.

Local charities are always in need of donations. Wherever we live, it is important to remember local food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens with donations of money, food and time. If your ability to give monetarily is limited, you can use your enthusiasm to motivate others to maximize their gifts. Join an existing food drive at church or work. Challenge your family, friends or co-workers to match your personal gifts.

I would like to make two suggestions regarding food bank gifts. The first is to think about nutritional quality. Nutrient-dense canned foods, such as tuna, chicken, beans, hearty soups and peanut butter, provide healthful calories in relatively small packages. Canned fruits and vegetables also make excellent donations.

My second suggestion is to make a commitment to give regularly throughout the year. Although holiday baskets and meals make the news, groups like the Food Bank and Rescue Mission provide food for needy people 365 days a year. During the holiday giving rush, they often have too many volunteers - and not nearly enough help during months like March and July. Your gift may be even more meaningful if it comes at one of the "down" times.

Large national groups support programs that local efforts cannot provide. These organizations need our assistance to coordinate and distribute large corporate donations; to conduct surveys and studies of hunger statistics; and to advocate for effective public policies on hunger, nutrition and food security.

America's Second Harvest consistently receives high marks from groups that rate the efficiency and ethics of charities. This is the nation's largest hunger relief organization, with a network of more than 200 food banks and food-rescue programs. At the Second Harvest Web site,, you can read their suggestions for holiday giving and check out volunteer opportunities.

The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) works to improve public policies to eradicate hunger and malnutrition in the United States. Its Web site,, describes numerous ways to get involved in FRAC programs, such as the "Campaign to End Childhood Hunger."

Solving global hunger problems requires both short-term and long-term solutions. Donations for food relief to Afghanistan and Iraq continue to be a high priority. However, agricultural support projects in many other countries are also critically important.

Heifer International, on the Web at, describes its catalog as the "most important gift catalog in the world." Rather than direct food aid, this group provides essential livestock and agricultural training in many countries. You can give gifts of bees, rabbits, ducks, pigs, goats, sheep, heifers and llamas, as well as tree seedlings. For more about Heifer International, call 1-800-422-0755.

UNICEF, the United National Children's Fund, offers numerous ways to help impoverished children and their families around the world. The UNICEF Web site has a thorough update on food and health issues in Afghanistan - and provides numerous ways to donate, including the purchase of holiday cards. For information, go to on the Web; or call 1-800-553-1200 for a catalog.

To give wisely, it is important to make certain that charities are doing well at doing good. You can visit local groups personally and investigate others on the Web. These sites can help you check out the finances, efficiency and policies of your charities of choice:

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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