I attended Light Up Hunger: A Call to Action Against Hunger in Kentucky, hosted by the Kentucky Association of Food Banks at the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort yesterday, where passionate people working to end hunger across Kentucky came together to raise awareness of hunger in the Commonwealth.

I left lit up – inspired to hear so many amazing stories from food banks that provide meals to families in need. I was also encouraged to hear about the effects that the Food Bank legislation from 2009 has made, providing incentives to farmers to harvest extra produce for food banks.

I was lit up by the system-level change that has and continues to happen, but I was also lit up by the fact that individuals like you and me can make a difference.  We can do things like:

1. Make our voices heard.

There are multiple federal programs that help fight childhood hunger such as the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants & Children – known as WIC. These programs need to be protected as they help to ensure thousands of children in Kentucky receive satisfying meals both at school and at home. While these programs were just recently renewed, the Supplemental Food Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, a federally funded program that reduces food insecurities by helping Kentuckians get enough nutritious food to eat, and it brings money into our economy through spending at grocery stores), formerly known as Food Stamps, will need to be protected during the coming months.

A recent report from the Food Research and Action Center about Food Hardship in America shows Kentucky ranks 9th in the country for the highest rates of food hardship for households with children in 2009. In July alone, an additional 700 Kentuckians relied on SNAP benefits to get enough food to eat.  But, despite the clear need for SNAP, Congress’s newly-appointed committee to address the nation’s debt, the Joint Select Committee, will likely look at cutting federal programs, including SNAP, like they have done before. So, keep an eye the issue by signing-up for Kentucky Youth Advocates’ listserv, and call, write, or email you your legislators and Congressmen when you receive our Action Alerts.

2. Support a local effort.

Volunteer at a local soup kitchen, donate food to a food pantry, or provide financial support to hunger programs like the Drive to End Hunger. AARP launched a Drive to End Hunger several months ago. Contributions help the Meals on Wheels program and local food banks such as Feeding America and Kentucky’s Heartland in Elizabethtown, a regional food bank which serves more than 125,000 people in 42 counties.