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We can make a difference for Howard families struggling with hunger [Commentary]

September is Hunger Action Month. Together, we can take action to fight hunger in our community, all month long. Hunger Action Month is our opportunity to join a movement that has a real and lasting impact on our effort to feed more Howard Countians than ever before. Whether it's by advocating and raising awareness, making donations, or volunteering, individuals can find the way that's right for them to make a difference during Hunger Action Month.

Community Action Council, which manages the Howard County Food Bank, is asking everyone to Speak Out Against Hunger on behalf of the nearly 49 million people in America that struggle with hunger. One in seven households and one in five children struggle with hunger every day. Solving the problem of hunger in America may be overwhelming, so let's look closer, let's look at whether there is hunger in Howard County.

According to Feeding America, 7.4 perecent of county residents (21,010 individuals) are food insecure every day. More than 17 peercent of the children attending the Howard County public schools are qualified to receive Free and Reduced Meals. We can attest to that number. Since 2008, the number of individuals who visit the Howard County Food Bank has increased from 3,800 to over 22,000. In FY 2012, CAC distributed more than 470,000 pounds of food to over 22,000 individuals who visited the Food Bank.

The Howard County Food Bank, which is open for distribution three days a week and staffed by four individuals, collects donations, holds food drives, distributes and delivers food to those in need, and supports 12 pantries in Howard County. Additionally, CAC manages a community garden that gives low-income families access to fruits and vegetables they otherwise cannot afford to purchase. More than 500 individuals support the garden by spending an hour or two each Saturday from April through November to help plant, water, weed, and harvest fruits and vegetables. Last year, more than 2,000 pounds of produce was harvested from the garden.

If you stop by the Food Bank on any distribution day, you'll see that families begin to line up starting at 11 a.m. even though the Food Bank doesn't open until 1 pm. This is not because the service is first-come, first-served or that families are turned away. It's because the inventory of food is limited and families want to assure they have enough food for a few days. This is not always easily achievable.

About 50 percent of individuals who visit the CAC Food Bank are senior citizens on fixed income. Eighty percent are female and 40 percent make less than $20,000 per year. Some of the families are receiving SNAP funds, formerly known as Food Stamps. Did you know that the daily food budget while on SNAP is $4.50 per day or $31.50 a week?

How challenging do you think it would be to try to feed your family on that budget? It would be hard. And that's why the food that is provided through the CAC Food Bank and its partner pantries is absolutely essential to the health and well-being of our families, friends and neighbors who are struggling to make ends meet. Join us, and together we can solve hunger.

Here are a few ideas about how to help and speak out against hunger in Howard County:

• Volunteer at the CAC Food Bank (8920 Rt. 108, Columbia)

• Make a donation — $1 equals 3 meals for our neighbors in need — at

• Volunteer at the community garden (across from Long Reach High School)

• Befriend Community Action Council of Howard County on Facebook

• Hold a food drive (Call us and we'll share a list of needed items)

• Take part in the Go Orange campaign

• Contact us at

Bita Dayhoff is the president of Community Action Council of Howard County

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