Paying more for groceries. Higher prices to fuel the car. And for parents of little ones, reaching deeper into their pockets to afford diapers.
Providing for a family can cost a small fortune, never mind trying to keep up with the cost of living. And in a pandemic era, these challenges seem exacerbated ahead of Thanksgiving, especially for those determining whether to pay the mortgage or put food on the table.
“With the cost of the average market basket,” people are “coming to the pantries asking for some help with certain things – milk, eggs, a turkey for Thanksgiving,” said Paule Pachter, the CEO of Long Island Cares – The Harry Chapin Food Bank.
Hunger on Long Island looks like this: There are 228,000 who are considered food insecure, and 68,000 of them are children, according to Long Island Cares, whose numbers stem from Map the Meal Gap, an effort conducted by Feeding America, the national food bank agency. While 33% of households on Long Island are above the poverty level, they don’t make enough to keep pace with the cost of living in the region.
This Thanksgiving, the costs of a holiday dinner are on the rise.
Consumers may see an increase of 12.8% to serve up a Thanksgiving meal for 10, according to Island Harvest Food Bank in Melville. And the need for food assistance this year is up, Randi Shubin Dresner, Island Harvest’s president and CEO, told LIBN.
“Last year we distributed 16,500 turkeys,” she said, putting the need this year at 18,500, including all the trimmings.
But fulfilling that need could be a tall order for anyone wanting to help a neighbor who might not otherwise enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal. After navigating supply-chain shortages and rising prices, this year there is an additional challenge: The accurate surge of avian flu. The outbreak could send turkey prices up to 73% a pound, experts say.
Nationally, more than 47.7 million birds have been affected by avian flu in 43 states that include 251 commercial flocks and 328 backyard flocks, U.S. Department of Agriculture figures show.
That’s put supply at risk, no matter how much advance planning was already in the works.
Dresner, for example, “put in turkey purchase orders in July to secure pricing early in the season.” Recently, however “a shipper cancelled on us – we don’t know why,” she said, leaving the organization short turkeys. “We’re doing everything we can to raise additional funds and collect more turkeys based on the need we know is out there.”
This year, Nassau County is holding an “End Hunger Celebration” a collaboration with Island Harvest, Long Island Cares as well as Madison Beer, a Long Island singer-songwriter, on Wednesday, Nov. 23, at 5 p.m. At this food-collection event at Nassau County Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, admission is free with the donation of a non-perishable food item, but registration is required. All of this pays tribute to Chapin, the beloved singer songwriter and hunger activist from Huntington.
The End Hunger event is designed to get food “to people who are in need, who need a little help getting through this holiday season,” Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman told reporters.
The event dovetails around efforts across Long Island to brighten the holidays. This week, for instance, Macerich, which owns and operates malls, hosted turkey distributions in the region, including Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream. The Bethpage Turkey Drive, collecting non-perishable items to benefit Island Harvest, takes place on Friday, Nov. 18, at Bethpage Federal Credit Union’s headquarters at 899 South Oyster Bay Road in Bethpage.
It helps to track pricing. Recently, Kerry Gillick Goldberg, who is collecting turkeys to feed 100 residents of Wyandanch Village, spotted turkeys at King Kullen for 69 cents a pound.
“This makes it much more affordable,” said Goldberg, director of communications and programming for the Wyandanch Plaza Association. “I was expecting to pay $1.99 a pound. I’m able to buy more turkeys.”
In Wyandanch, there’s a community gathering so people won’t spend Thanksgiving holiday alone. In advance, Goldberg roasts the turkeys. Kimberly Jean-Pierre, the local New York State assemblywoman, prepares the mac and cheese. The local collard greens are from F&W Schmitt Family Farm. And the Tuesday before the holiday, reusable bags, filled with all the makings of a holiday dinner, are distributed to those in need in the community who want to cook at home.
All of this – and more – aims to assist the food insecure in Nassau and Suffolk counties. To better understand the demographics and develop effective programs and policies, Long Island Cares surveyed more than 1,000 of its clients at 12 food pantries, in Spanish and English.
The survey found that of its client base, 54% are Hispanic/Latinx. On Long Island, hunger is a multigenerational challenge, with 30.5% of the organization’s clients from homes with at least one child. And household income is less than $25,520 for more than half of its clients, with 13% saying they have no income at all.
But hunger, Pachter says, is not only a “poor person’s problem – it’s a problem for the middle class,” especially on Long Island where “the cost of living is so astronomically high.”
Even at a time of low unemployment in the region, people struggle on this side of the pandemic. Here, Pachter shares insights.
“You would imagine that those people who are able to work have found employment,” he said. Still, there are “seniors who retired, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and other difficulties, women-headed households looking for affordable childcare, immigrants who are new to the region and don’t have family. There are people earning less than $15 or $20 an hour and can’t afford car insurance. They are coming to the pantries for some assistance, but not everything.”
Dresner said, especially “for people suddenly out of a job, it’s not so easy to shell out another $20 at the gas pump, and another $40 at the supermarket.”
“The good thing is people are not hesitating to go for help,” Pachter said. “Years past, there was a stigma, but we’ve come a long way from that stigma.”
He said the stigma eroded, in part, in a post-Sandy/post-government shutdown era, where many people were affected and needed help. Pachter said local organizations – Long Island Cares, Island Harvest, The Interfaith Nutrition Network and others – were there for them.
“The more we put a real face on who on Long Island is in need of food assistance, the better off we’ll be,” Pachter said.
“We have tremendous support from the community – we need stronger support from elected officials as well,” Dresner said.
And when it comes to stamping out hunger, Pachter sees hope in the next generation.
High school students, he said, “are discovering this issue and embracing it,” noting that up until recently, other causes stood out ahead of hunger.
“The issue of hunger didn’t resonate but now with high school and college students and social media,” he said, there is much more interest, including in food drives and internships. “Young people are getting it and they’re responding.”
President Joe Biden’s strategy for ending hunger in the U.S. by 2030 is being funded in part by companies whose own workers sometimes can’t afford to buy food.
The Biden administration’s national plan to eliminate hunger and reduce diet-related diseases includes $8 billion in “new commitments” from more than 30 businesses, nonprofits and philanthropies. The commitments include companies pledging to donate meals and cash to food banks and community groups, or promising to make the food they sell to Americans healthier, among other actions.
Some observers have questioned why the list of companies participating in the anti-hunger strategy includes some whose business practices, in their view, contribute to America’s hunger problem. Namely, three gig-economy companies — DoorDash, which delivers mainly restaurant meals; Shipt, an app for arranging home delivery of groceries and other items; and Instacart, another grocery-delivery service — are among those pledging assistance in the administration’s war on hunger.
“It is profoundly unsettling that companies like DoorDash, Instacart and Shipt, which refuse to pay their workers a minimum wage floor and overtime, [and] refuse to provide health insurance and workers’ compensation, get cover under an initiative like this,” said Veena Dubal, a law professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, a fellow at Stanford University and an advocate for gig workers. “They get to pretend they care about hunger and poverty when, in fact, their firm practices exacerbate hunger and poverty.”
Gig-economy companies say they provide flexibility and independence to workers, who can set their own schedules and work as little or as much as they want. But drivers for delivery apps like DoorDash DASH, +2.33%, Instacart and Target-owned TGT, -1.25% Shipt are not classified as employees; they’re independent contractors. That means they don’t receive the protections and benefits that employees are legally required to have, like a guaranteed minimum wage, paid time off and unemployment insurance.
There is evidence that gig workers are more likely than other service-sector workers to experience hunger firsthand. In spring 2020, nearly one in five (19%) gig workers went hungry, compared to 14% of other service-sector workers, according to a national study by the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank. Twice the rate of gig workers (30%) as W-2 employees in the service sector (15%) relied on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — the public benefit once known as food stamps — within a month of the survey, according to the study. (W-2 refers to the tax form employees use to report their income.)
Steady, an app that helps mostly low-income gig workers, self-employed individuals and part-time workers navigate work opportunities, compare pay rates and more, conducted a public-benefits survey among its users in early October. The survey, which had more than 3,500 respondents from across the country, found that about 42% of workers with at least one month of gig income receive SNAP benefits — slightly higher than the 40% of those who have only W-2, or employee, income.
Cardell Calloway, a 68-year-old DoorDash delivery worker from Lancaster, Calif., who said he has been living in his car for about a month after his RV was towed away, relies on SNAP benefits. When his church was offering food, he would also go there, he said.
Calloway does deliveries eight to 12 hours a day at least five days a week and makes about $500 a week, he said.
“It’s not right that I can’t afford the food I deliver,” Calloway said. Asked what he thinks about DoorDash partnering with the White House on the hunger initiative, he said, “I have to be skeptical about anything DoorDash comes up with.”
“ ‘It is profoundly unsettling that companies like DoorDash, Instacart and Shipt, which refuse to pay their workers a minimum wage floor and overtime, [and] refuse to provide health insurance and workers’ compensation, get cover under an initiative like this.’”
Dubal said her research showed that during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, gig workers had “no financial safety net” and were going to food banks. That jibes with a study by the UCLA Labor Center and the SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, which found in the summer of 2020 that one-third of California gig workers they surveyed did not have enough money to buy groceries, and that 39% came close to not having enough money for food.
Overall in the U.S., nearly 4% of households experienced “very low food security” in 2021, meaning they routinely skipped meals or cut their food intake because they could not afford more food, a U.S. Department of Agriculture report found. About one in 10 households experienced “food insecurity” that year, meaning they “had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members because of a lack of resources.”
Estimates of how much income gig workers take home can range quite a bit. Spokespeople for DoorDash, Shipt and Instacart said their delivery workers make an average hourly wage of about $25 to $35.
But some studies suggest much lower wages because they take into account all the costs borne by gig workers. Drivers and delivery workers must use their own vehicles, pay for their own gas, in most cases buy their own healthcare coverage and more. A study from UC Berkeley’s Labor Center and a accurate one backed by gig workers suggest hourly wages — which are based on the time when a worker is actively engaged on the app and do not include total working time — could be as low as under $10.
Gig companies have repeatedly pointed to their own studies and other research backed by gig companies that show much higher wages for gig workers, whom they say choose the work because of the flexibility it provides. Spokespeople for DoorDash, Instacart and Shipt did not respond directly to questions about studies suggesting gig workers are more likely to experience food insecurity than W-2 service-sector workers.
A DoorDash spokesperson said the company has launched financial literacy and financial coaching programs to help Dashers “save, invest and grow their supplemental earnings.” An Instacart spokesperson said the company is transparent with workers about how much they’ll earn from a given assignment, so workers can decide whether it’s worth taking.
Livable wages, not donations to food banks, should be first on the list of remedies to solve hunger in the U.S., said Joel Berg, chief executive officer of the nonprofit Hunger Free America.
The public has a skewed vision of charity’s role in addressing food insecurity, he says, because “much of the way the media covers this is backwards, implying that the top problem is not enough charity and the top solution is more charity. The top problem is low wages and high cost of living, and then the second issue is the safety net,” Berg said.
“The countries of the planet that have far less hunger than the United States don’t have it because they have more charity; they have it because their economy functions better, they have higher wages and they have a more robust safety net, which in most places is basically cash,” Berg added.
Charities like food banks can and should fill in the gaps, Berg said, but in his view, expanding the number of people signed up for SNAP; WIC, a program that provides food benefits and nutrition education for low-income mothers and young children; and other benefits is the most effective solution to hunger. It’s a view he acknowledges is self-interested, because Hunger Free America exists in part to sign people up for these programs. (He also noted that Hunger Free America has received funding from two of the companies involved in the Biden administration effort, Albertsons ACI, -0.88% and Chobani.)
“‘The biggest correlation to hunger and food insecurity in America isn’t even the safety net, and it’s certainly not charity — it’s the state of the American economy.’ ”
It can seem to the public that food banks are on the front lines of solving hunger, Berg said, a view that was heightened early in the pandemic when thousands of cars lined up at food banks across the U.S. But in reality, the dollar amount of food distributed through public benefits like SNAP, WIC and other federal programs is at least 17 times the dollar amount of food distributed by every food charity in America, according to Berg’s calculations.
That’s because SNAP reaches millions of people — 38 million nationwide in 2019 — who use it regularly to buy their food, while food banks and soup kitchens serve people more episodically, often providing just one meal or a few days’ worth of food at a time, Berg said. Officials with food banks have made similar points.
“The only thing that’s a bigger impact than the safety net is wages and employment,” Berg said. “We see that the biggest correlation to hunger and food insecurity in America isn’t even the safety net, and it’s certainly not charity — it’s the state of the American economy.”
When Hunger Free America submitted recommendations to the Biden administration ahead of September’s White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health, the first one on the list was “creating living wage jobs.” But Berg doesn’t see an issue with the Biden administration accepting donations from companies whose wages fall below that standard.
“It’s entirely appropriate for the Biden administration to welcome commitments from any company that wants to do the right thing, at the same time as holding them accountable,” Berg said. “I don’t see it as a conflict whatsoever.”
He praised the Biden administration’s hunger strategy for striking a good balance, because the $8 billion in commitments from companies and other entities is just one part of a much broader strategy. “The way they framed this, as additive rather than a replacement, I think was just right,” he said.
There are other examples, apart from the Biden administration’s effort, of companies playing a significant role in hunger relief while also being criticized for low wages. The most prominent is probably Walmart WMT, -2.33%, which recently celebrated the milestone of donating 7 billion pounds of food to Feeding America’s food-bank network.
“To put that in perspective, the population of the U.S. is over 331 million people,” Walmart said on its website. “That means we donated enough food for every person in America to eat three meals a day for five days.” Walmart has also donated more than $145 million in grants to Feeding America since 2005, the nonprofit says.
At the same time, Walmart has long been criticized for not paying its associates higher wages. Average hourly pay as of March 2022 was $16.40 an hour, with some roles reaching $30 an hour in some areas, the company has said. Walmart was one of the top employers of SNAP and Medicaid beneficiaries in 11 states, a U.S. Government Accountability Office report from 2020 found. That report also found that in two states, Washington and Nebraska, DoorDash was among the top employers of SNAP recipients.
Walmart did not respond to a request for comment. The company isn’t on the list of those providing the $8 billion in new commitments for Biden’s hunger strategy, but it has pledged to address the White House hunger and nutrition goals.
One “revolutionary” step that delivery apps like DoorDash, Instacart and Shipt could take would be to let their customers pay with SNAP, Berg says, and then deliver food to seniors with mobility issues or to neighborhoods that don’t have healthy food.
Some of the delivery apps appear to be moving in that direction with their commitments to the Biden administration. Shipt says it will work with retailers to expand the use of SNAP and other public benefits on its platform, among other actions. Shipt customers can already use SNAP and EBT (the Electronic Benefits Transfer card that stores government assistance money) to pay for same-day delivery orders through Meijer, the Midwestern chain grocer. Shipt is piloting SNAP/EBT payments “with another large retail partner right now,” a spokesperson said.
“Shipt’s new initiatives to reduce food insecurity and expand access to healthy foods are an integral part of our ongoing commitment to put people first and make a meaningful impact in parts of our country that have been historically underserved,” Shipt spokesperson Evangeline George said.
Instacart currently enables 70 retailers across more than 8,000 stores to accept EBT SNAP payments online via Instacart, a spokesperson said. As part of the Biden anti-hunger strategy, it will work with the USDA to incorporate SNAP and the government-assistance program Temporary Aid to Needy Families into its online platform “with a goal of expanding these benefits to all grocery partners by 2030.” It’s also launching new technology called Fresh Funds that will allow companies and other entities to provide stipends to employees or other individuals to buy “fresh, nutritious foods” on Instacart, among other actions.
DoorDash does not accept SNAP; the program doesn’t typically pay for restaurant food, though some states are starting to allow SNAP benefits to cover restaurant meals. DoorDash did not respond to an inquiry about whether it plans to accept SNAP or other public benefits, but the company said in a white paper on reducing food insecurity that it supports increasing SNAP benefits and expanding eligibility.
DoorDash’s role in the Biden plan will involve directly delivering food to hungry people. The company is donating $1 million in “Community Credits” to pay for charitable food deliveries in 18 cities with which it is “partnering.” DoorDash will also deliver hunger-relief groups in those cities access to Project Dash, a way for nonprofit and government groups to arrange food deliveries to people in need using the same DoorDash technology that restaurants use. The company did not respond to a question about how long its partnerships with the cities will last.
The $8 billion in “new commitments” is just one piece of Biden’s overall hunger strategy, unveiled at September’s White House conference on hunger. The plan also includes expanding access to SNAP; increasing children’s access to free meals at school; and changing food labels so it’s easier for shoppers to pick out healthy food. “It calls for a whole-of-government and whole-of-America approach to addressing the challenges we face,” the White House said of the national strategy.
The companies’ pledges raise questions about what role food-industry businesses should play in solving hunger in the U.S. Some experts welcome companies’ involvement in the national effort; others say the pledges miss the mark because they don’t address systemic issues that lead to hunger and diet-related illness.
“ ‘We have to be realistic in understanding that the incentives of a corporation (i.e. profit) are not aligned with what the nation needs right now to combat nutrition insecurity.’”
“The White House conference really made a strong effort to include industry and partner with industry, and while that’s laudable, I don’t think it’s going to be particularly effective,” said Jim Krieger, executive director of Healthy Food America. Many of the pledges seem to be one-time donations to the charitable food system, he said, and fail to address underlying factors that contribute to food insecurity and poor diet quality.
To be sure, some of the corporate pledges do involve attempts to Excellerate Americans’ diets. The National Restaurant Association, for example, says it will expand a program under which restaurants voluntarily make their children’s menus healthier.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Other hunger experts say corporations must be at the table when solutions to hunger are crafted.
“If we are going to solve this massive problem in our entire food ecosystem, we are going to need all sectors to come to the table — including industry,” said Hilary Seligman, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco who served on a task force that advised the White House hunger conference. “But we have to be realistic in understanding that the incentives of a corporation (i.e. profit) are not aligned with what the nation needs right now to combat nutrition insecurity, as well as other problems such as climate change and rampant levels of diabetes.”
As for companies paying low wages, she said, “They should do better; I’m just not sure I’m ready to blame the companies for it, because I think fundamentally the problem is our government allows it. Assuring a livable wage needs to be part of our all-of-government response to food and nutrition insecurity.”
NBC 5, Telemundo 39, Kroger Dallas Division, and the Kroger Co. Zero Hunger Zero Waste Foundation are fighting hunger this holiday season and we need your help!
Now through December 24, visit any Kroger store near you and make a donation to help food-insecure families. Your generous donation will help North Texas Food Bank and Tarrant Area Food Bank feed families during the holidays.
"Hunger is a year-round issue, however, there is increased awareness during the holidays," said Erica Yeager, North Texas Food Bank's chief external affairs officer. "No one should face hunger alone."
NBC 5 and Telemundo 39 are honored to once again join Kroger’s annual hunger campaign, End Hunger Here, as food insecurity continues to be a chronic issue in North Texas.
"We have inflation that's going on right now, and it's just people who are struggling to make ends meet," said John Vatava, director of corporate affairs at Kroger. "So we're working with our Feeding America food banks here in North Texas; the North Texas Food Bank and Tarrant Area Food Bank, to raise money that's going to help them feed more people."
One in seven people is food insecure in Texas. It is even worse for children as one in five children does not know where their next meal will come from.
"In fact, the North Texas Food Bank is distributing more meals now than we did at the height of the pandemic. We're providing access to roughly 12.4 million meals a month. That's a 17% increase since just last March," Yaeger said. "So hunger exists in every ZIP code. It might be somebody you work with. It might be a child in your student's classroom. It might be a neighbor."
The latest news from around North Texas.
Making a donation is very easy at your local Kroger store. You can donate the $10 virtual food box, round up your grocery purchases to the nearest dollar, or make a donation of $1, $5, $10, at the checkout stand.
Our goal is to raise $1.3M this year – that’s nearly 4 million meals to be distributed to North Texans, but ultimately, our goal is to end hunger in our community.
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The family of Egyptian pro-democracy activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah says officials have informed them that Abdel-Fattah has undergone a medical intervention.
The family says that authorities have not told them any specifics about the nature of the intervention.
The medical development comes just days after Abdel-Fattah, who has been on a hunger strike for several months, decided to stop drinking water Sunday, coinciding with the opening of the COP27 talks in Egypt.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, in Egypt for the COP 27 session, have talked about Abdel-Fattah in their talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
Prison authorities have denied a lawyer for Abdel-Fattah access to his client.
The Associated Press reports Amnesty International’s Secretary-General Agnès Callamard has called for independent medical care for Abdel-Fattah.
“Why? Because the prison system in Egypt is abysmal in its treatment, medical treatment of prisoners,” she said.
Abdel-Fattah's mother has made daily trips this week to the prison where her son is being held, but she has not received any information about his condition.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, has called on citizens to take agriculture more seriously in a bid to curb poverty and hunger in the country.
According to a statement, the former president who was represented by his wife, Mrs Bola Obasanjo, stated this during the inauguration of the Platform for Africa Women in Smart Climate Agriculture held in Abeokuta, Ogun State on Tuesday.
Also Read: 2023: Agric My Top Priority – Tinubu
He said, “The most important thing is to keep life going which has to do with food because when we talk about food, we are talking about farming. Nigerians should take agriculture and its value chain seriously as a sure way out of hunger and poverty because it will secure the nation from insecurity and boost the nation’s economy.”
Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, Nov. 10, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- During COP27, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, Action Against Hunger, a nonprofit leader working to end hunger in our lifetime, is calling on global leaders to pledge binding climate investments designed to address hunger and health. With 27 out of the 35 countries most impacted by climate change currently suffering from extreme food insecurity and with famine looming, the nonprofit said that governments, corporations, and private donors must prioritize support for climate-resilient food systems.
“The climate crisis is a health and hunger crisis and we need bold action that puts the most impacted communities first,” said John Otieno, Regional Advocacy Officer for Action Against Hunger in the Horn and Eastern Africa. “Smallholder farmers produce one-third of the world’s food and are among the people most affected by climate change. Yet, they receive only 1.7% of global climate finance. We have a narrowing window to protect their futures and the future of our planet.”
Otieno and other Action Against Hunger leaders are playing an active role in COP27 to advocate for urgent policy changes and advance innovative solutions. Its experts will appear at multiple sessions live-streamed and in-person including:
12th November, 3-4 pm (EET): "Climate and Hunger Crisis: Governance and Solutions" with Yvonne Takang, Advocacy Expert, Action Against Hunger
12th November, 4.30-5.30 pm (EET), Blue Zone: "Securing Nutrition Together! Locally-led Adaptation in East Africa" with John Otieno, Regional Advocacy Officer for Action Against Hunger in the Horn and Eastern Africa
17th November, 4.00-5.30 pm (EET), Blue Zone: "Climate Resilient Food Systems and Planetary Health - Multidisciplinary Experiences on Achieving Food Security and Combating Malnutrition in East Africa" with John Otieno, Action Against Hunger
“We urge global leaders to support transformative agricultural initiatives, clean water security, new food systems, and locally-led adaptations,” said Mamadou Diop, Action Against Hunger’s regional representative in West and Central Africa. “Action Against Hunger supports millions of people around the world who are acutely threatened by poverty and hunger and their needs are far greater than the resources available to help. There is an urgent need for funding for climate change adaptation and mitigation. During COP27, we must unite to create a climate-resilient world that is free from hunger, for everyone, for good. which should go directly to local communities and civil society organizations.”
This is the first time that the UN Climate Change Conference is taking place in Africa, a continent particularly hard-hit by the impact of climate collapse on health and hunger. Around 278 million people in Africa are chronically hungry, or about 20% of the African population, compared with 10% of the global population facing chronic hunger.
# # #
About Action Against Hunger
Action Against Hunger is leading a global movement to end hunger in our lifetimes. It innovates solutions, advocates for change, and reaches 24 million people every year with proven hunger prevention and treatment programs. As a nonprofit that works across 50 countries, its 8,300 dedicated staff members partner with communities to address the root causes of hunger, including climate change, conflict, inequity, and emergencies. It strives to create a world free from hunger, for everyone, for good.
CONTACT: Emily Bell Tyree Associate Director of Communications Action Against Hunger +1 917-847-8636 ebtyree -at- actionagainsthunger.org
CAIRO -- The family of imprisoned Egyptian pro-democracy activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah demanded word on his condition after prison authorities on Thursday told them he was undergoing an undefined medical intervention and blocked a lawyer from seeing him.
The dramatic developments came days after Abdel-Fattah escalated his hunger strike and stopped drinking water.
One of Abdel-Fattah's sisters, Sanaa Seif, called on President Joe Biden to intervene in his case when he meets Egypt's president on Friday on the sidelines of the annual U.N. climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh. The family has expressed fears that authorities are force-feeding Abdel-Fattah, who wrote to his family that he was willing to die in the strike unless he was freed.
“I’m really scared,” she said. “I don’t know for sure (what happened), but I’m imagining that Alaa is handcuffed somewhere. He’s been put on IVs against his will.”
“Please find a solution," she said, addressing the Egyptian government. "Our loss will be the biggest. It’s not good for anybody. Why is this happening? Why has it gone this far?”
His mother, Laila Soueif, said she was having difficulty imagining that authorities would actually let her son go after the yearslong ordeal.
“I think the chances are very high that he will not get out and that he will not be safe,” she told The Associated Press. “So I can't really imagine (a time) after."
Abdel-Fattah, who has been imprisoned for most of the past decade, had been consuming minimal calories for months but stopped all intake of food and water on Sunday, the first day of the climate conference, known as COP27.
At the Sharm el-Sheikh gathering, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz raised the activist’s case in their talks with el-Sissi. Abdel-Fattah gained British citizenship through his mother, who was born in London.
But so far Egyptian officials have shown no sign of bending. Rather, they've tried to portray Abdel-Fattah as not being on a hunger strike at all. Late Thursday, Egypt's public prosecutor released a statement, saying a medical team had examined Abdel-Fattah after receiving a complaint from him on Nov. 1 and that he was found to be in stable health. The statement did not specify when exactly the checkups took place, or at what stage in his hunger or water strike, only that Abdel-Fattah had willingly underwent them.
The nature of the most accurate medical intervention was also not immediately known, and it was not clear if he was moved to a prison hospital. At the conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard expressed alarm and called for independent medical care for Abdel-Fattah.
“Why? Because the prison system in Egypt is abysmal in its treatment, medical treatment of prisoners,” she said.
At least 40 prisoners have died in Egyptian prisons this year, according to the al-Nadim Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence. Among them was Alaa al-Salmi, who died in late October after being on hunger strike for several weeks.
A family lawyer, Khaled Ali, said officials at the prison refused to allow him to visit Abdel-Fattah despite approval by the prosecutors’ office for the visit. He said Interior Ministry officials told him the approval was not valid because it was dated Wednesday, adding in a tweet that he was only notified of the approval on Thursday morning.
Abdel-Fattah is serving a five-year sentence on charges of disseminating false news for sharing a Facebook post about a prisoner who died in custody in 2019.
Soueif, his mother, has been waiting outside the Wadi el-Natroun prison complex in the desert north of Cairo every day this week, seeking proof of life of her son. She said Thursday that prison officials spoke to her outside the prison gates but refused to take a letter from her to him.
She asked them if he was undergoing any medical procedure and they said he was. She asked “if it was by force, and they said no” and told her, “Alaa is good,” she told the AP.
“I need proof for this. I don’t trust them,” she said. The family said in a statement that its lawyers were demanding information on the substance of the “medical intervention” and that Abdel-Fattah be immediately moved to a civilian hospital.
“You have to factor in the fact that in this country, things don’t happen as planned, (there is) ignorance and ineptitude, they could kill him without meaning to kill him,” Soueif said.
Abdel-Fattah rose to fame during the 2011 pro-democracy uprisings that swept through the Middle East, toppling Egypt’s long-time President Hosni Mubarak. He has been imprisoned several times, and has spent a total of nine years behind bars, becoming a symbol of Egypt’s sliding back to an even more autocratic rule under President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.
Egypt’s hosting of the climate summit has drawn intensified international attention to its heavy suppression of speech and political activity. Since 2013, el-Sissi’s government has cracked down on dissidents and critics, jailing thousands, virtually banning protests and monitoring social media.
Speaking to the AP on Thursday at the conference, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry declined to answer questions about Abdel-Fattah and suggested some countries were using the issue to distract from climate commitments.
“Other issues that are not directly pertaining to the climate might detract from the attention and … deliver justification to maybe those who would prefer to concentrate on other issues to avoid having to deal with what they need to do, how they need to implement their obligations and responsibilities,” he said.
“So, again, it is up to the parties to put the emphasis on the issues that are most important to them,” he said.
Life is not easy for many and when food is scarce for one family of orphans, the eldest Emmanuel Venasio skips meals so his 14-year-old sister Miriam can eat.
The pair lost their mother this year and his meagre earnings put them in the 70 per cent of Malawi’s population living below the international poverty line of $2.15 per day.
Emmanuel, 20, had to drop out of education and find work when he became the head of his household.
But he is determined that his sister will stay in school and realise her dream of becoming a doctor - the same goal he was forced to abandon.
And thanks to Scottish charity Mary's Meals, the daily serving of porridge is providing life-saving nourishment and helping to keep Miriam on that path.
The Daily Express joined the aid organisation in Malawi as it marked 20 years of providing breakfast in primary schools and nurseries across the globe.
The free meal not only prevents malnutrition but crucially provides an incentive for impoverished youngsters to stay in school.
Without it many would be sent out to work or stop attending classes when hunger saps their energy.
For Emmanuel, knowing that Miriam is guaranteed at least one good meal every weekday eases his burden.
He works as a motorcycle taxi and, after paying rent on his bike, makes between 80p and £1.30 each day.
Emmanuel said: “She usually leaves without eating so the meal that she has at school brings me comfort.
“There are occasions when I cannot fetch enough money for both of us to eat but I can deliver it [to her] so that she can have something.”
Malawi, in southeastern Africa, has high levels of food insecurity and widespread problems with malnutrition. Four in ten children under the age of five experience stunted growth.
Hunger keeps many trapped in a cycle of poverty - and when survival takes priority over education, almost half of primary school children drop out early.
Emmanuel and Miriam have three other siblings who moved out of the family home after they lost their parents. Their mother died in January following a four-year illness and their father was killed in a 2018 car accident.
Their sister Nizziah, 17, left school and married a man from their village, Samama. But during a visit with her one-year-old baby, Ethan, she admitted she was unhappy and only wed for security.
Younger brothers Godfrey, five, and Kingsley, 12, were taken in by a local orphanage, where the siblings are reunited once a month.
Emmanuel said he misses his brothers but is relieved to know they are cared for. He hopes they, too, will stay in education.
He explained: “It wasn’t easy for me. My siblings all felt anxious about the passing of our mum and how we would carry on without her, alone. I felt that burden.
“The biggest challenge I have is finding enough money to just meet our basic needs, for example managing to buy soap.
“I miss school and wish that I had an opportunity to go back. I have dreams that I feel were not realised.”
At schools supported by Mary’s Meals, children arrive as early as 6am to get their serving of porridge before classes begin at 7.30am.
Attendance rates rise in areas that join the feeding programme and teachers notice their students concentrate better with full bellies.
Pupils arrive at Miriam’s school carrying their books in rucksacks, handbags and carrier bags - and each clutching a colourful plastic mug.
They rinse the cups out with water, then queue to receive a serving of porridge from one of the women volunteers who arrive before dawn to cook it.
The school’s small cookhouse is filled with gospel singing in the early hours as the women light fires under large vats.
They pour in water and Likuni Phala - porridge formulated for growing children that is delivered in pink Mary’s Meals sacks.
The mix consists of maize, soya and sugar, fortified with vitamins and minerals.
Volunteer Mary Simba, 47, wakes at 1am every day and walks for 90 minutes to reach the school.
Two of her six children benefit from the free breakfast which takes pressure off her family’s finances.
Mary said: “I am happy to see the children coming and taking the daily meal. If they don’t eat then they might become sick or weak because they are hungry.
“My children are happy and their performance in class is good because they have been fed. I wish to see them do well.
“It’s difficult because when they go to secondary school it becomes more expensive as they won’t have the porridge, so we have to fend for them. But I want to see them do well in life so they can support themselves.”
Samama Primary School gets through 65kg of porridge every day to feed around 1,000 pupils.
In total, Mary’s Meals helps more than 2.2 million of the world’s poorest children across countries including Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria, Romania, India and Thailand.
The average global cost to feed a child is just £15.90 per school year and meals are tailored to the cuisine of each country.
The charity was launched in 2002 after founder Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow visited Malawi during a famine and met a mother dying from AIDS.
When he asked her eldest son what his dreams were in life, the boy replied simply: “I want to have enough food to eat and to go to school one day.”
Dan McNally, head of grassroots engagement at Mary’s Meals, said: “We believe the cycle of poverty can be broken by the simple serving of a daily meal at school.”
Mary’s Meals is running a Double The Love appeal until the end of January, which will see donations doubled by a group of generous supporters, up to £1.5m.
● You can donate to the charity’s vital work here.
Two long queues stretched across the yard at Chipini Primary School as boys and girls waited patiently for their porridge. Each carried a colourful plastic mug provided by Mary’s Meals.
This is where it all started in 2002 when the charity began supplying daily servings for the first 200 children.
Now, more than 1,400 pupils at this school alone benefit from the nutritious breakfast.
Among them are friends Flora Lesten, 13, and Olive Malunga, 11.
Flora uses a wheelchair and says that without the free meal she would struggle to find the strength to keep coming to school.
She is the eldest of four children cared for by their single mother. Food is often scarce and sometimes all they have to eat are mangoes.
Flora said: “Maybe yesterday I didn’t eat supper but I can come here and get porridge. That gives me courage to go to class and learn.”
Chipini’s deputy headteacher, Godswill Chikomo, said enrolment shot up after the feeding programme was launched.
Previously many youngsters would drop out to spend their days working to scrape together enough money for a meal.
Mr Chikomo, 39, said: “The coming of Mary’s Meals provided great relief for parents. Some of the learners here just have one meal a day and that’s the porridge.
“After eating, they feel awake for another day so it has been a great help. Most learners are coming because they know that if they come here, they’re not just going to learn but to eat.”
In a nearby village, Hanna Lihonga described the challenges she faced looking after six children, three of whom attend Chipini.
One was her son and the remaining five were her sister’s children. Hanna, 40, took them in after she died following a long illness in 2018.
Hanna sold maize, beans and rice at the local market but said it was hard to make ends meet.
She added: “Mary’s Meals helps a lot. When the children get their meal it gives them energy to be active in class and they can easily pass [their exams].
“Without it, life would be very difficult.”
Today, more than 64 million children around the world will miss school. Instead of learning in class, they could be working and begging for food to survive.
They will grow up without an education – proving that hunger is both the cause and the result of poverty.
But a donation of £15.90 can transform a hungry child’s life. That’s right, it costs just £15.90 to feed a child with Mary’s Meals every school day for a year.
People often ask me how this is possible. It’s possible because we keep our running costs low to maximise the good we can do with the donations entrusted to us.
It’s also made possible by many little acts of kindness from supporters and volunteers all around the globe.
Our life-changing meals are prepared and served by volunteers in the areas where we work.
These inspiring people feed 2,279,941 children globally every school day, often rising at 2am to collect water and light the fires that fuel our stoves so that their children, and children in the community, can eat before school.
In Malawi, we serve steaming mugs of porridge fortified with vitamins. In Madagascar, rice with pinto beans and vegetables. And in India, lentil dhal with rice.
We always ensure our dishes are nutritious, suited to regional tastes and, where possible, made with locally sourced ingredients – meaning we are providing a livelihood for farmers and supporting economic growth.
At Mary’s Meals we believe the cycle of poverty can be broken by the simple serving of a daily meal at school.
With a full stomach and hope for the future, children can concentrate on their lessons and work towards an all-important education.
- Dan McNally is head of grassroots engagement at Mary’s Meals