We can end hunger in Maryland

With kids back in school and Labor Day parades and beach parties concluded, it's time to talk about a perennial issue facing our communities: "food insecurity," or more simply put, hunger. With nearly 50 million Americans going without enough food to meet their basic nutritional needs, food insecurity is one of our gravest ills, at the center of dangerous gaps in public safety, public health, education and the economy.

In Maryland, the richest state in the nation, 780,000 people don't know where their next meal is coming from, including a quarter of a million children.

Today, in schools across the state, countless kids are sitting in class, stomachs growling, relying on in-school meals as their primary daily nutrition.

The Marylanders facing hunger are our neighbors. According to an OpinionWorks poll commissioned by the Maryland Food Bank last month, half of Marylanders in the food bank's service area know someone personally who has been affected by hunger. And one in five people polled have themselves been affected by hunger. These are staggering statistics in a state with Maryland's wealth.

We believe that if every child and every family was well-nourished, with a steady stream of good, nutritious food — never forced to choose between eating and other basic needs — other societal issues would not run so deep and stretch across generations.

September is Hunger Action Month, a time when food banks across America mobilize to raise awareness and inspire action. And the good news is, Marylanders are eager to solve the hunger problem.

According to our poll, 93 percent of residents want Maryland to be the kind of a state where hunger does not exist, while 80 percent agree that hunger can be ended in Maryland. In a world full of overwhelming problems that raise many questions and few answers, it is nothing short of inspiring to know that our neighbors believe — as we do — that we can end hunger. And that support for the goal is essential, because we've always said that the Maryland Food Bank alone — even with our vast network of partners — is not the solution.

We need everyone to start thinking and talking about hunger and how we can end it. We need members of the community to ask tough questions and to give willingly of their talent, time and energy. We need Marylanders to "Be a Voice" for ending hunger in our state.

Recently launched, our "Be a Voice" campaign offers myriad ways to take action to end hunger. Donate funds, food or time to your local food pantry, soup kitchen or shelter. The Maryland State Police and the Maryland State Highway Administration are hosting a statewide food drive all month long. Attend the Maryland Food Bank's Hunger Action Symposium on Friday where anti-hunger leaders from across the nation will share their knowledge, ideas and proposed solutions. Download the Hunger Action Toolkit, with tools for "being a voice" through social media like Twitter and Facebook. Find the toolkit, dropoff locations and more at http://www.mdfoodbank.org.

Hunger and its consequences affect us all. And it's going to take all of us to end hunger.

Deborah Flateman is president and CEO of the Maryland Food Bank. Her email is deborah.flateman@mdfoodbank.org. For information about Friday's Be a Voice Hunger Action Symposium, call 410-737-8282.

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