Rotary: No child should ever go to bed hungry

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By John Hewko, General Secretary, Rotary International

Hunger. Famine. Starvation. Malnutrition. Indeed, as World Food Day (16 October) reminds us, there is no easy way to describe the grim fact that nearly 870 million people on our planet are chronically undernourished. And sadly, so many of those affected are children, whose minds and bodies are denied the sustenance needed to grow into healthy, productive adults.

It is a truly global problem, plaguing communities throughout the developing world and even in developed countries where surprisingly high numbers of families struggle daily to put food on the table.

My organization, Rotary International, a global network of volunteer leaders committed to finding solutions to the world’s most serious challenges, is well aware of the problem – and well positioned to do something about it. With more than 1.2 million members belonging to 34,000 Rotary clubs in over 200 countries and regions, Rotary has “boots on the ground” where the need is high and also in communities with the capacity to help.

On their own initiative, Rotary members concerned about food insecurity have formed two very active international groups: the Rotarian Action Group for the Alleviation of Hunger & Malnutrition, and the Food Plant Solutions Rotarian Action Group. These action groups serve as resources, assisting Rotary clubs worldwide to collaborate and undertake effective, sustainable approaches to the hunger issue.

Recognizing the value of leveraging resources through partnerships with top-tier organizations with proven track records, in 2012 Rotary also became a service partner with the Global FoodBanking Network to combat jointly the issues of hunger and food insecurity through food banking.

Rotary First Harvest, a Rotary club supported charity in Seattle, Wash., USA, has developed a unique and effective way to support the food banking concept. Working in cooperation with growers and processors, Rotary First Harvest gathers more than nine million pounds of fresh, nourishing produce each year that would otherwise be wasted, and then helps deliver it to local food banks and food distribution programs serving families in need.

Other examples of Rotary clubs in action against hunger:

  • In Florida, USA, the Flagler Beach Rotary Club co-founded the Family Food Co-op to provide food to needy rural families identified by local schools. A $30 donation can feed a family of four for a week, and recipients are encouraged to volunteer their own time to help their neighbors.
  • In Australia, the Rotary Club of Brisbane Centenary launched the Beef Bank in 2007 to provide fresh meat to organizations working to feed local families. One beef cow can yield 500 pounds of meat, enough for 1,000 servings.
  • Since 1998, the Rotary Club of Madrid, Spain, has worked with local hotels to collect surplus meals for distribution to food programs serving families in need. Trucking and transportation companies donate delivery vehicles.
  • Rotary clubs in Ecuador are partnering with Banco de Alimentos Diakonia(Diakonia Food Bank) to provide equipment, expertise and volunteers to reach low-income families in Guayaquil, the nation’s largest city.

Of course, there is no single answer to the daunting challenge of hunger and food insecurity. Starving people must be fed on an ongoing basis, as long-term solutions are developed and implemented. Meanwhile, we must lay the groundwork needed to generate the kind of steady, sustainable, economic development that lifts communities out of poverty, which is inexorably linked to the food issue and other problems, including illiteracy, disease prevalence, and violence.

This is what Rotary does. And Rotary clubs will continue to work at the grassroots level to identify community needs and to develop workable, sustainable, culturally appropriate solutions. If you would like to be a part of this effort, visit rotary.org and contact a Rotary club in your area. Learn what your area clubs are doing to alleviate hunger locally or internationally. Donate to or volunteer for a club-supported food project. Get involved.

Remember this simple truth: No child – anywhere in the world – should ever go to bed hungry.

John Hewko is the general secretary of Rotary International and the Rotary Foundation. He leads a diverse staff of 800 at Rotary International’s World Headquarters in Evanston, Illinois, USA, and seven international offices. Hewko holds a law degree from Harvard University, a master’s in modern history from Oxford University (where he studied as a Marshall Scholar), and a bachelor’s in government and Soviet studies from Hamilton College in New York. He and his wife, Margarita, live in Evanston.