We have all been hungry before. Maybe we have even skipped breakfast, worked through lunch or had to wait until late at night to eat dinner. In college, I often worked second shift and routinely left around midnight with a roaring stomach.
But I cannot remember the last time, if ever, that I went hungry for 68 straight hours. Can you?
My missed or delayed meals are often voluntary in some capacity, but did you know roughly 16 million children nationwide regularly have insufficient food or miss meals altogether?
Childhood food insecurity is widespread, and there are many people and organizations working to resolve it. You might even remember my conversation with Deb Anthony, executive director of Gather. She shared that their program “Meals 4 Kids” now serves over 500 Seacoast children a week during the summer.
Still, there are 1,200 kids experiencing the pains of hunger between Kittery and Seabrook.
Local schools also help by providing free-or-reduced meal programs, but hundreds of children on the Seacoast go hungry from lunch on Friday afternoon to breakfast on Monday morning each week.
It is hard to stomach the reality that there are children that head home from school and later return hungry. It is not only a nutritional concern, it increases behavioral issues as well. Teachers often attest to overly hungry students being edgy, having difficulty concentrating and being disruptive.
It is a challenge that the New Hampshire founded, nationwide nonprofit End 68 Hours of Hunger aims to address. Since 2011, its volunteers have been putting nourishing food in the hands of school children to carry them through the weekend. “At risk” children are identified by guidance counselors and nurses at schools. Volunteers purchase food, pack bags and distribute them. School employees then give the food to participating students.
Each bag of food delivers two breakfasts, two lunches and three dinners per child, with some leftovers to share, every week.
End 68 is entirely volunteer-based and 100 percent of contributions go directly to feeding at-risk children, unless otherwise designated by a donor. It has locations all over New England, as far west as California and as far south as Florida.
Organizations like End 68 rely heavily on community support through volunteer efforts, donations and financial contributions.
And the Portsmouth Music and Arts Center has joined in helping the cause. It will host the 15th annual Concert of Thanksgiving, Nov. 9, in support of Kittery’s End 68 Hours of Hunger. The concert is at the Star Theatre at Kittery Community Center, 120 Rogers Road. The show starts at 7 p.m.
PMAC’s annual concert is free and family-friendly. In lieu of tickets, PMAC simply asks people to donate to the charity the event is benefiting. This year, that charity will again be End 68 Hours of Hunger.
In past years, many concert attendees have brought full shopping bags of non-perishable food items, yielding literally tons of food donations and several hundred dollars in financial contributions.
For End 68 in Kittery, the average cost to fill and distribute one bag of food is $13.50. It currently serves approximately 50 students a week and has delivered over 16,500 bags since its founding in 2011. With the help of a supportive school system and a generous community, the organization is able to continue feeding the hungry children of Kittery.
End 68 is a particularly appropriate organization for PMAC to support. Many students enrolled at PMAC are children with families in need and recipients of tuition assistance.
“It’s really important to us and connected to what we do,” said PMAC’s Executive Director Russ Grazier.
The Concert of Thanksgiving will feature adult ensembles that participate in weekly programming at PMAC, 12 in all. Each ensemble will play two or three pieces during the two-hour event. You will hear amateur musicians playing ukuleles, blue grass, jazz and more. There will even be a concert band.
Grazier described the event as an all-city concert for adult groups, similar to the youth concerts that take place at Portsmouth High School. The major difference here is that parents and grandparents are on the stage while their children and grandchildren are in the audience.
PMAC is calling on the community to come out in force to support End 68. But Grazier also hopes attendees will walk away from the concert inspired, knowing it is never too late to start playing music.
“Some of the people that will be on the stage started playing music in their 50s, 60s and 70s, and there are people that had not picked up an instrument since their childhood,” he said.
On Nov. 9, enjoy great local musicians, learn more about End 68 and support its incredibly important mission. For more information on how to help, email Pauli Rines at Kittery@End68HoursOfHunger.org.
Chase Hagaman is a community advisory member of the Seacoast Media Group’s editorial board, New England regional director of The Concord Coalition and host of Concord’s weekly radio show and podcast, Facing the Future.