Each year, our software staff at Innovative Systems put on what we call our Holiday Cook-off. It will be our 6th annual event where we invite, cajole, and challenge our co-workers to bring food in 2 categories: Desserts, and Soups/Stews. We then invite the entire company to come eat with us that day and everyone votes for their favorite dishes with money placed into jars in front of each entry. The money then is donated to a charity we have selected. Our giving has increased each year as you can see by my festive bar chart. Great honor and bragging rights are bestowed upon the champion chefs in each category. And the food, absolutely incredible.
This year we selected the Weekend Snack pack program as our charity to donate all money to. I admit it came as a shock to me when I first found out about this program and the need for it. It turns out that for many kids, school lunches are their only viable and dependable sources of nutrition which is why this program has grown all over the country as people wondered “what will these kids do for food over the weekend?”. So people started a program of gathering donations and sending eligible kids home from school on Fridays with a small, returnable backpack with some basic food stuffs – cereal, some microwaveable food, maybe some peanut butter, etc – whatever can be gathered for these kids.
I was looking for some pictures to use for a flyer at work and found this program had sprouted up all over the country and throughout eastern South Dakota as well. Below in an article from our paper, 3 years ago (since this article the number of kids needing this program in our own town has nearly doubled)
Cindy Novachich, of Mitchell, holds up a flat of Chef Boyardee Ravioli that was purchased with donated funds for the Weekend Snack Pack program that Novachich is heading up with a group of volunteers. Novachich uses a room in her home and living room space to collect the donations. The packs, which will contain several easy-to-prepare food items, will be given to Mitchell students on Fridays to have food to eat over the weekend. Around 180 students have signed up for the first packs, which will be distributed in early January. (Laura Wehde/Republic Photo)
It was the heartbreaking stories told by teachers of kids obviously not having enough to eat whenever school was not in session that underlined the extreme need for programs like this. It would be hard to worry about school, or even the future if you are hungry at the moment. The heart-wrenching details such as the need by the organizers to remove or black out UPC codes on the food so that older irresponsible caretakers or siblings can’t attempt to return the food to stores for money, or stories of kids having to hide the food when they get home so older people didn’t consume it all just sickened me. And hearing about how sometimes just a big box of cereal is sometimes the source of a few meals and even snacks for some kids in homes going thru tough times, was pretty sobering, and it starts to reshape your thinking.
So, this year during this time of thanksgiving, I am proud that not only do I work with caring people that have lifted our company to one of the United Ways largest givers in the area, but that take on extra causes like this. It’s important that those who work in areas less hit by recessions such as the technology and information services careers remember all that they have – as Father Fox used to remind us, “to those whom more is given, more is expected”. And to keep reminding myself that it takes so little to make a difference – and hopefully get my kids to learn the same lessons – over and over again.
Which reminds me of another related subject – years back on 60-Minutes, they had a news segment about a supplemental food created to save the malnourished babies and children of the world, here was the New York Times article about this, it was called Plumpy’nut and came in a silver foil package and provided 500 calories of a peanut butter paste and stuffed with vitamins and minerals, and not only kept kids alive and but the malnourished babies actually thrived on it and “plumped” them up for lack of a better word. It had a 2-year shelf-life, did not need to be refrigerated, nor did it require water mixed with it – which is another landmine in the poorest of areas. And they would create small little factories in different areas of those poorest of regions utilizing that areas local materials to manufacture this supplement.
Since then this incredibly life-saving food has become the source of some controversy due its its owner’s patents, and their willingness to defend them. But everyone agrees that it is highly effective in treating the worst malnutrition cases. It makes you wonder though – what if a little more attention was given to creating a few regional factories in our country creating a highly nutritious, easily preserved, lightweight, and cheap basic food source utilizing each region’s natural materials. Maybe it too could be a paste made of peanuts, or corn or flax seed or wheat or some other nuts, or whatever is plentiful in that region – in biblical terms, a type of modern day “manna” – not meant to be a sole food source but certainly an emergency food source – you wonder, that if the most basic nutritional needs of those needing it the most were met, what kind of potential could that unlock? And could efforts in simple areas like this begin to remove hunger as a social concern in many areas?
And what if the United States had its own form of Nobel Peace Prizes for addressing issues within our own country – would that spur on more innovation? – Americans love a good competition – put the winners on a live reality show, throw in a few rock stars like the FooFighters handing out the medals, then show them having a few beers with some other famous or important individuals (I think I would choose Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, David Grohl, and Troy Aikman) at a Buffalo Wild Wings, let them spend a weekend at the White House, walk around Area 51, and throw in a cameo in the upcoming Star Wars films and I think you’d have something there. I could see some serious technology-minded attention being focused on social issues with a Manhattan-project-plan like that. I am sure some could poke a few holes in my plan but you get the gist of it.