Last night a child cried himself to sleep in Tutu as he had no supper. A mother in William’s Delight agonizes over having to choose between paying her WAPA bill or putting food on her family’s table. A senior couple faced with an every shrinking fixed income and escalating costs has to forego their lunch every day to pay prescription costs. These are the tales of hunger in America’s Paradise, the U.S. Virgin Islands.
This week, November 16-22, 2008, Governor John P. deJongh has declared as Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week in the Territory. In a land of plenty, there is no good reason for people to be hungry.
The number of hungry people in the world is fast approaching one billion. More than 400 million are children. Today, over 25,000 children in the world will die from hunger. Here in the most prosperous nation on the planet, there are more than 35 million of our fellow Americans who can be classified as hungry and in the Virgin Islands over a third of our children are classified as in poverty. There is not a single community in our country that is hunger free. In the District of St. Thomas-St. John alone over 1,000 meals are served each day and yet there are more that are hungry.
We see the harsh impacts of hunger every day in our island communities. Children who are hungry don’t learn in school; they have developmental problems; they’re more likely to get sick, and often end up with early age illnesses that result in a shorter life-span. Pregnant women who lack enough food are more likely to give birth to babies with serious abnormalities. The elderly who can’t afford the cost of prescription drugs, paying their WAPA bill, and food too often go without food, and end up in our emergency rooms.
And the cost of hunger is staggering. A recent study by Harvard University documents that hunger in our country results in an annual cost burden on the American people of more than $90 billion.
This is a serious crisis that is getting worse. And what is maddening is that with all the wealth, with all the opportunity in our islands, we can end hunger, maybe not in the world — but certainly in a land of plenty such as the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Think of the good food that goes to waste from our local restaurants, hotels, and grocery stores. How about the amount of food that is disposed at sea by the cruise ships that visit our shores every week? Some years ago, I drafted local “good samaritan” legislation that shielded those businesses that give food to local non-profits in good faith.
With this law in hand, I believe that we can initiate a Second Harvest program whereby we could retrieve food from local purveyors and recycle it to our local non-profit feeding programs. In addition, we could train those being served in the food and beverage industry allowing them to secure meaningful employment. Ultimately, the goal is not to hand out food, but rather to increase the independence, purchasing power and food security of every human being.
This is but one solution to problem of hunger and homelessness in our Virgin Islands. There are many others. As we commemorate National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, I call on all my fellow Virgin Islanders to consider the plight of the hungry and homeless. Give up a meal this week and send a donation to your favorite charity. Working together as a community we can develop solutions – we can end hunger and provide housing to those in need.
As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Why should there be hunger and deprivation in any land, in any city, at any table, when man has the resources and the scientific know-how to provide all mankind with the basic necessities of life? There is no deficit in human resources. The deficit is in human will." Yes, we are our brother’s keeper. Let us reach out to him today.