by Peggy Ingraham
It should be no surprise to anyone that those of us who work in the anti-hunger field spend a great deal of time thinking about the hunger problem and searching for solutions to what is a growing crisis. For most of us our work is more than a job or a source of income. It’s a mission and a passion. And, yes, we know that we are not unique. The same is true of a number of other vocations as well. The difference between what we do and medical researchers, for example, is that our work rarely results in stunning and widely touted and reported breakthroughs. And, to continue with this comparison, another obvious difference is that we all know what the cure for the disease of hunger is. It is food, of course, that commodity in abundance in this land, even as much of it is relegated to landfills. If that sounds like a familiar complaint or refrain, there is a reason for that. It is. But there is more to the solution than ensuring that those entities that work to feed people in need have adequate supplies of nutritious food.
Please bear with me as I subtly digress. One of the items placed on my nearly 2 year old great niece’s Christmas list by her parents was a rocking horse. As I perused the vast choices on line I took some mental note of the perennial popularity of such toys, despite the obvious changes in material and safety features that have occurred over time. I imagined the little one hopping on her new horsey with glee and riding off across an imaginary field, once her parents had made sure that she had received the proper instructions for the journey. Oh, the joys of ye ole “hobby horse,” as we used to call it, I thought. Then, suddenly, the object lesson began to open up.
The notion of riding along endlessly on the same old hobby horse has actually become a pejorative expression in our culture, and for good reason. It means, quite obviously, that one expends a great deal of energy without actually going anywhere. It becomes synonymous with futility and a lack of progress.
At its heart, education and imagination are what make the experience different for a 2 year old with a new toy. I mention education first because it comes first. Her parents will have to hoist her on to the saddle for the first time and then teach her how to make the toy rock. What seems intuitive to us just won’t be to her. Again, to state the obvious, we all learn by being taught. That is the value and necessity of education.
So, what role does imagination play? A huge one. It turns a toddler into an equestrian and a cluttered family room into a huge new world to explore. In other words, education and imagination can be transformative; together they can change everything.
That is what we at NFESH have come to realize and that is where we will be focusing our attention now and in the coming year. For too long, too many of us have been riding the same old hobby horses the same way (“that is how we’ve always done it”) and we don’t have much progress to show for it. Too many seniors are still threatened by hunger. Too much food is inadvertently wasted by those entities – and those honest, sincere, hardworking and dedicated folks who want to help – whose mutual mission, just like ours, is to address and reduce hunger. Those are facts.
We have learned a great deal as we have developed projects and programs to achieve the goal on which we have focused our imagination. We have developed the tools, created the textbooks and designed the curriculum. We are pilot testing our educational programs in one state so we can share what we’ve learned with senior nutrition programs across the nation. Now we hope others will want to saddle up. If you are interested, give us a call.