Live Below the Line: Hunger and extreme poverty
Director of Digital Engagement
United Way for Southeastern Michigan
With the launch of No Kid Hungry – Michigan today, United Way, along with community partners, is ending childhood hunger. Among our first-year priorities, we are increasing access to federal child nutrition programs, such as school breakfast and summer meals.
But what does that really mean? Will increasing school breakfast and summer meal programs really put a dent in hunger?
I think so, and let me tell you why.
Last year I had the good fortune to take a group of student leaders to Ford Field the night before Thanksgiving to meet Nickelback. We walked from our office on Campus Martius to the field around 6:00 p.m. As we entered the stadium and crossed the field, just as we were approaching the members of Nickelback, out of the corner of my eye I caught one of the students kneeling on the field.
Oblivious, I assumed that he was just really excited to be standing on Ford Field and was touching the turf. A few seconds later I realized he was on the verge of passing out. It turns out, he hadn’t eaten all day, which unfortunately, made sense to me. The day before Thanksgiving, he had only a half day of school. He was sent home before school lunch.
For too many of our children, school lunch is the one consistent meal they can count upon. And this is what happens when school isn’t in session. Children go hungry and get sick.
It is easy to assume that careless parenting is to blame. If only parents had their priorities straight, managed their money correctly or worked a better job, then their children wouldn’t be hungry. And I’m not going to say that is never the case, but research proves it to be the exception – not the norm. Most of us, fortunately, just do not understand what it is like to live below the poverty line and to have to rely on services such as school lunches to feed our children because our food budget is gone a week into the month.
Enter Live Below the Line, a week-long initiative that challenges people to spend five days feeding themselves on $1.50 a day – the U.S. equivalent of the extreme poverty line. The campaign is designed to give a glimpse into the lives of 1.4 billion people who have no choice but to live below the line every day – and who have to make $1.50 cover a lot more than food.
I learned about the Challenge through my cousin, Rob, and his wife, Nicole. They are participating in the challenge in support of Nicole’s organization, Malaria No More – an organization that distributes life-saving mosquito nets and treatment, paired with groundbreaking health communications to ensure families are safe and protected. As the Director of Operations and Strategy at the Malaria Policy Center, Nicole has traveled to Africa several times and has become heartbroken by the abject poverty and living conditions she sees there.
I am just as heartbroken when one of our best and brightest students from Detroit doesn’t have steady access to three meals a day, or anywhere in our state, for that matter. One in five Michigan residents have trouble affording enough food.
Rob and Nicole have graciously agreed to blog about their week living on $1.50 per day for food for United Way – to give us all a glimpse into what it is like to live in extreme poverty. I invite you to watch this space this week, May 7 - 11, and follow their story.
And, while I’m not in the practice of soliciting donations for another nonprofit (my blood runs United Way blue, red and gold, you know), I invite you to check out Rob and Nicole’s Live Below the Line fundraising page in support of Malaria No More and contribute if you are inspired – like I was. I am proud to say that, as of this writing, they are second in the nation in fundraising for the Challenge.
If you want to make a difference at home, here are three ways you can take action today:
- Sign up now to be a part of No Kid Hungry – Michigan by visiting the website and entering your information under the “End Childhood Hunger“ heading.
- Lend your voice to United Way’s advocacy efforts to ask Congress to support nutrition programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, that put food on the table for 800,000 children in Michigan.
- Donate now to United Way’s work to eradicate childhood hunger.
And, by all means, don’t feel as if you have to choose between supporting world-wide efforts or local efforts to end hunger. A small donation or action to each could make a world of difference.