Atlanta Community Food Bank Vice President of Programs Jon West talks with children at a Hall County school during one of the organization’s events promoting summer meals. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

This Life with Gracie: How you can help this campaign to feed the hungry

The fifth annual nationwide “Fight Hunger. Spark Change.” campaign has been up and running for two weeks now, but there’s still time to get in on the action.

You can either make a donation during checkout at any Walmart store, participate through social media or log onto walmart.com/fighthunger and give that way.

If you’re lucky enough to not have to worry about where your next meal will come from, there are 842,000 people, including 312,000 children, in metro Atlanta and North Georgia who aren’t so lucky.

Laura Hansen, a 42-year-old mother of six, has had that struggle for most of her adult life.

For every step forward she has taken, illness has forced her to take two steps back.

Hansen, who was diagnosed with lung disease when she was an infant, has tried but hasn’t been able to hold a job.

“I have a hard time walking and breathing at the same time,” she said.

On top of that, one of her children is missing part of his immune system and has trouble digesting foods, which means processed foods were out of the question.

It was tough but with $213 worth of food stamps and $1,600 monthly from her disability and her husband Jeffrey’s income, they somehow managed to make ends meet.

When Jeffrey suffered a heart attack in December, that was that.

“It completely wiped out our income,” she said. “Then our car needed a repair, and we got behind on our utility bills.”

This is the kind of story Jon West hears all the time from clients seeking help from the Atlanta Community Food Bank and its 600-plus partner agencies

RELATED | If school is out, hungry children need our help

“We see it repeated in lots and lots of ways,” said West, vice president of programs for the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

Over the nonprofit’s 29-county service area, many of the families they serve work, they have kids and are in the midst of some kind of crisis. Sometimes it’s health care. Sometimes it’s a job loss or something that might seem as mundane as a significant car repair.

But any of those or a combination of all three can tip families over the edge and like the Hansens render them unable to make ends meet.

Laura Hansen, mother of six, is one of nearly 750,000 people who seek help each year at the Atlanta Community Food Bank. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

One in 8 Americans, including 1 in 6 children, struggle with hunger at some point during the year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Hunger also affects certain populations more profoundly, including childrenseniors and Latino communities, where 1 in 4 children are in food-insecure households.

Those numbers alone might not mean much, but imagine having to water down meals to make them stretch further, or your kid going to bed hungry or drinking water so their bellies feel full.

“That’s the reality behind the data we talk about,” West said. “There are people in our neighborhoods wrestling with this issue every day.”

Now through April 30, Walmart and Feeding America will double their meal goal to at least 200 million, introduce the Walmart Credit Card as a new way for customers to get involved in the campaign and increase to 14 the number of food companies participating. Those include General Mills, the Coca-Cola Co. and Kellogg.

For every participating product purchased at Walmart stores or on Walmart.com, the companies will donate the monetary equivalent of one meal (10 cents) on behalf of a Feeding America member food bank.

And in another first, the supermarket is uniting with a social networking site, Nextdoor, to drive conversations in local communities across the nation on ways they can combat hunger.

The campaign comes at a crucial time. The Atlanta Community Food Bank and others across the country are facing a downturn in support, common after the holidays.

RELATED | AJC Special Report: Atlanta’s Food Desert

Walmart will start the campaign with a $1.5 million donation and aims to donate a total of $3 million to Feeding America based on the public’s social media engagement in the “Fight Hunger. Spark Change.” campaign.

For every traceable post of campaign content with #FightHunger on Instagram and for every traceable share or retweet on Facebook and Twitter of campaign content, Walmart will donate $10 to Feeding America and for every click on the support button on the program website, Walmart will donate $1 to Feeding America, up to $1.5 million.

Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Soon after Jeffrey Hansen’s heart attack last year, his family was forced to seek help at Covington First United Methodist Church, where they not only were given free food, they were offered clothing, hygiene items, haircuts and other resources.

“They took the time to talk to us to find out what we needed,” Laura Hansen said. “The first time we went, they had a table of food donated by local farmers. They weren’t just handing out cans of corn and chicken soup. They had fresh produce and meat. It was the most beautiful thing because that’s what we needed. You have no idea how exciting it was to walk in there and see all those things.”

Although her husband recently returned to work, Hansen said they are still “desperately trying to play catch-up.”

“We could not survive without their help right now,” she said. “As a mother, it’s terrifying to think I might lose my children because I can’t feed them right. Not only did they change our life, they fixed our world and gave us hope. That hope is immeasurable.”

If you’re still undecided about giving, think about that.

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