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Anika and Elizabeth Pinke took a shift delivering Meals on Wheels in their community, giving their mom time to think about helping with food insecurity. (Katie Pinke/Agweek)

Give back by helping to feed the people around you

If you're reading this, you're most likely food secure, an affluent eater who has an array of choices when it comes to what you're preparing for Christmas dinner and a New Year's celebration. the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food security as "access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life."

What does food security mean and look like in our own backyards and communities?

Recently, I spent 30 minutes driving around my rural town thinking about food security while my daughters delivered Meals on Wheels. Meals on Wheels operates in more than 5,000 locations across the U.S., giving seniors access to healthy meals and the ability to live longer in their homes.

Elizabeth, age 10, has been eager to sign up to deliver meals since we took a turn a couple of times this past summer. It's our church's month to deliver again, and she found an evening we could do it. But this time, she wanted only her sister and her to deliver the meals to the senior citizens. I was simply their driver, which afforded me time to think and reflect.

As a woman in agriculture with a strong connection to and understanding of how food is grown, it makes my eyes roll when I read about or listen to rantings about food labels when there are people around me who don't care about the labels because they need and appreciate the food.

In the U.S., it's not about a lack of food: It's about access to healthy food and the need to decrease food waste and overcome the prevalence of poverty. Rather than discuss food labels, which often sounds like food arrogance, let's do something with the affluence and security of food we have access to and help those with less this holiday season and year-round.

This holiday season isn't about the "stuff;" rather it's about meeting the needs of people, one of which is nourishment. When my life is over, I hope my example has taught my children to actively play a role in making a difference in the lives of others, which includes opening our home to share meals, inviting others into our church to share meals, giving our money to ministries and nonprofits that support our passions of feeding more people and sharing our time to serve as volunteers.

In my state of North Dakota, one in 12 adults and one in 11 children struggle with hunger. In the U.S., one in six, or 49 million people, face hunger. There is not a county in the country that doesn't have people facing food insecurity, which means no matter where we live, we can make a difference this season.

Several years ago, I learned of a friend who was going to a local food pantry a few months of the year to get by for his family during a time of reduced income. I had no idea my friend had a need — but I knew there had to be more people like him and that I could help.

After asking my friend about the specific needs of the food pantry, I make a point to donate items that only require water to make: protein sources such as canned meats, beans and shelf-stable milk, spices, tea, instant coffee, paper products, and extras like sweet potatoes, cranberries and stuffing that are a treat for a holiday meal. Monetary donations to food pantries and feeding programs are often best so they can purchase bulk of exactly what they need.

My heart was full as I watched my daughters deliver meals to different faces in our community. Sometimes we do not need to give more to receive. We simply have to sit in the driver's seat and watch from afar. Give more this holiday season by helping feed more people around you. There is a need in your backyard and in mine. Together, we can share the gift of food.

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