Since 2011, May 28 has been recognized as World Hunger Day, with an emphasis on working toward sustainable, long-term solutions to combat hunger and poverty for the estimated 800 million people in the world who do not have enough to eat.
As we consider this staggering global statistic, let us not forget that each of the 800 million in hunger represents a living, breathing human being who struggles simply to make it through each day. Each person is someone's loved one — a child, parent or friend — and living their appointed days on this Earth in conditions that many in this country cannot imagine.
We must be careful, however, not to fall into a false sense that hunger is a problem for someone else, somewhere else. Unfortunately, on a national level, too many Americans also deal with hunger on a daily basis. It is reported that 40 million people face hunger in the U.S. today, including more than 12 million children and nearly 5 million seniors.
The Mountain State is no stranger to this suffering either. According to current data, 1 in 7 West Virginians struggle with hunger, including 1 in 5 of our children. On a local level, 16% of our citizens in Cabell County and 15% in Wayne County are "food insecure," which is the USDA's measure of a "lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods."
The effects of food insecurity are far-reaching, particularly on the physical and mental health of our children. Leading researchers tout a fairly predictable direct correlation between hunger and delayed development, chronic illnesses and behavioral problems in school age children. Imagine the difficulty in concentrating on a reading assignment or learning an equation while suffering hunger pangs and agonizing about not when, but whether, there will be a dinner tonight.
Those with the most need often have the least-heard voices when it comes to advocating for changes in policy. The priority is how to make the hunger headache stop rather than following the committee status of a bill in a large, marble building in Charleston. There is more concern with how to find transportation to the Fellowship Hall on Thursday evening when the food boxes are graciously distributed by the local church than preparing for a teleconference with the lobbyist ahead of next week's floor vote. Those whose voices are heard least rely on each of us in the community to speak up and ensure that our practical policies reflect our stated values.
As we reflect on World Hunger Day of 2019, we must recommit on every level to do what we can to combat the unnecessary suffering of our brothers and sisters both at home and abroad.
On the national and state level, let us pursue legislative policies that effectively reduce hunger and poverty and encourage self-sufficiency. On the community level, let us support our food banks, gospel rescue mission, school pantries and church outreach programs with our time, money and collective energy.
Finally, on the personal level, let's recognize the value and dignity of each of the 800 million people suffering from hunger today, especially those whom with whom we interact every day in our own communities — and then commit to act to make things better.
Chad Lovejoy, a Democrat, is a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates representing the 17th District, which includes parts of Cabell and Wayne counties.