Yes, there is a great deal of hunger in 21st Century America. One of my favorite memories is seeing missionary nuns from India serving a meal to homeless people in a park in Washington D.C.
If you live in a large city like Seattle, even on the streets, you will probably not starve. At the very least, you can find donuts and bagels everywhere. (I'd been in housing six months before I could stand the sight of a bagel again.) But finding fresh food, especially fruits and vegetables and dairy products, may be impossible. Malnourished children have educational problems that certainly don't help them to break the cycle of poverty. Malnourished adults find it that much harder to get and keep a job -- or even to get and keep hope.
So food is important. Your contributions will certainly be appreciated at food banks; prepared food will usually be welcomed at most shelters or day centers. Please call ahead, though. It would be a heartache to both you and the residents if several people came with food on the same night, and most of it was wasted. Few shelters have refrigeration.
Try to avoid starches and sweets; they are already widely available. Apples, oranges, carrots, nuts, cheese, even hard-boiled eggs can be carried in a backpack and will keep at least through the day; egg-salad sandwiches or custard won't.
Your personal interest may be even more welcome than the food you bring. One night while I was in shelter a neighboring couple brought soup and sandwiches and stayed to talk. Everyone ignored the food and crowded around the visitors.
I can tell you some of the places in Seattle where you can contribute food, but if you live outside of Seattle I probably can't. Your city may have a Community Information Line, or you can try looking up food banks or missions in the phone book. Once you locate one agency, they can probably refer you to others.
One of the places that will welcome a hot meal: Tent Village: Currently located at The Church by the Side of the Road, Tukwila, Tent Village shelters 100 men, women and families and has no cooking facilities. Food Not Bombs brings a meal every Sunday night.
You can find a list of Seattle food banks, and locate the one nearest you, at SCN's Crisis Resource Directory.
If you have women's clothing to donate, both Angelines and Noel House distribute clothing.
Any warm winter clothing would be welcome at Tent Village.
The Millionair Club Thrift Store has a free voucher program, as well as selling clothing at low prices.
Every now and then someone calls our SHARE shelter group to offer some item of furniture. The only items we could use would be: storage lockers for our storage program; cots or mats (or tents or tarps) for Tent Village; or bunk beds for the Bunkhouse. We cannot take any upholstered furniture because of the difficulties of cleaning and maintenance.
The SHARE House, however, can take just about anything.
An increasing number of programs are offering computer use and training for homeless and low-income folk. Among them are Real Change and WHEEL. Either group would be glad to accept any working computer you've grown out of, or printers or terminals or modems or software ...
Cash donations can be designated for a specific program, or you can allow them to be used by the organization for whatever its current priorities are. Real Change is listed at JustGive.org, or donations can be mailed to Real Change, 2129 Second Avenue, Seattle WA 98121. Donations to SHARE and/or WHEEL can be mailed to SHARE/WHEEL, P.O. Box 2548, Seattle WA 98111-2548. All of these are 501(c)3 organizations; your donation is tax-deductible.
There are many more organizations listed at JustGive.org for secure online giving. You can check out the mission, financial statement, and board of directors of each organization before giving.
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