When we came to America, most of us thought we had left hunger behind. This was the land of milk and honey, of plenty, anyone willing to work hard would be successful. Well, then we found out that was not so. Inequities linger in every society where segments of population are marginalized, get left behind, and America was no exception. It was shocking that even in the 21st century, more than 40 million people in America were hungry! But wait, we did not call it hunger… we termed it “food-challenged,” a word more palatable. For the longest time, hunger in America was hidden, not immediately visible yet lurking in every neighborhood.
We discovered that hunger in America did not necessarily mean homelessness. It plagued not only the homeless, but also underpaid dual income families, children, veterans, seniors – people who live in a home, people amongst us! Despite the US’s developed nation status, our minimum wage does not afford people a living wage, and the smallest crisis in their life exposes them to great financial instability, needing them to seek food assistance.
Then came this pandemic, COVID-19. It bared everything. The ugliness stared at us in our face. We saw how broken our societies, our supply chains, our way of living was. Suddenly, hunger became very visible. The pictures of hunger invaded our homes, making it impossible for us to turn away. Food banks were the only news topic covered some evenings. And it was gut-wrenching and ironic to watch farmers destroy harvest-ready crops due to the closed economy while lines of cars at food distribution sites were growing by miles. And the people in the cars looked no different than you and me! What a nightmare!!!
Months later, even as restrictions are lifted, economists suggest that unemployment, business shutdowns and layoffs will take a long-term toll on our society. With unemployment touching 25% and rising, food banks will have to continue to supplement food for many families for many months. And that means the community at large will need to help support their food banks.
What role do we play?
The burgeoning Indian American population in USA is proof of a community focused on the value of education and work ethic. We are scaling all peaks. Our focus on savings and living a life within our means shelters us from having to drastically shift our standard of living during adversity.
But we can wield our strength better by participating in the circles of influence that spearhead solutions for area issues, the legion of active volunteers and contributors to mainstream causes. While some of us are getting involved, our individual efforts are not concerted or impactful enough to match the magnitude of challenges we see today. We need to regroup, recommit ourselves, and act as one.
This is what HungerMitao has set out to do. HungerMitao (which means wipe out hunger) is a movement to engage the Indian American community in the fight against hunger across America. It is not an organization, but a secular, grassroots movement. It was formed to raise hunger awareness, increase volunteerism, as well as channel the collective resources and contributions of the Indian American community towards a hunger-free America.
The Feeding America network of food banks covers and serves the entire country with amazing efficiency and transparency. So, instead of starting a separate initiative, HungerMitao supports the food bank system. Donations of all resources go directly to the food banks and are acknowledged by them.
In a little under 2.5 years, as HungerMitao, the Indian American Community enabled more than 10 million meals for the food banks in the US! And that was before COVID.
Since then, with collaboration with Indiaspora and its ChaloGive campaign, in just 2.5 weeks, 6 million additional meals were enabled. 10 million meals in 2.5 years, additional 6 million meals in 2.5 weeks! This is an example of what is possible when a community collaborates around a common issue/cause. Such selfless unity enables a community to take on any challenge, and our community shines.
HungerMitao is as much about eradicating hunger as it is about unifying the fragmented efforts of the Indian American community, focusing it on the humanitarian cause of HUNGER. This galvanizing effort will further raise the image of the Indian American community in this land that we have made home. We are, and want to be known as smart, compassionate change-agents, who make this community we live in, stronger. We give where we live so our community benefits from our presence.
And while we may never be able to eradicate hunger, it is our duty to ensure no one goes hungry.
To learn about HungerMitao, visit HungerMitao.org.
Raj Gopal Asava
Born and raised in India, Raj Asava held senior/executive positions for several large companies and held the position of President at two start-up organizations over the four decades of his corporate career. Raj retired as Chief Strategy Officer of Perot Systems in 2010.
Raj and his wife Aradhana (Anna) launched HungerMitao (wipe out hunger), a 100% volunteer-driven grassroots movement, in the fall of 2017. HungerMitao is fighting hunger through the Feeding America network of food banks. Since the two years it has launched, the Indian-American community has enabled more than 10 million meals working with food banks in North Texas, Houston, New York City, Atlanta, and Seattle.
A Plano, Texas, resident, Raj now channels his time and resources in a focused manner to causes related to food insecurity, children’s advocacy, education, and mentoring the next generation.
You can contact Raj and Aradhana at HungerMitaoUSA@gmail.com.