Right now, somewhere in America, parents go hungry so the kids can eat. Mom lies in bed, tears on her face, wondering if she can stretch the money somehow, put off a bill or two so her family can eat. Just down the road, a farmer trashes fruit and vegetables he couldn’t sell before they went bad. Downtown, a grocery store throws out the produce that isn’t pretty enough and dairy on the verge of going out of date.

See the dichotomy?

Millions struggle with hunger and food insecurity while the nation ‌wastes over $240 billion worth of food every year. You, your family, and your community can do something about that. The problem stems from many sources. The solution must involve average Americans, community and business leaders and, yes, even politicians. Here’s how you can start right where you are to make things better.

Things you can do about food waste and hunger:
1. Cut waste at home
2. Encourage community action to combat waste and hunger
3. Reduce systemic waste by redirecting food to food banks and community kitchens
4. Spread the word, grassroots activism is powerful!

Stop Waste at Home

Food waste happens at home, on the farm, in restaurants and supermarkets. The key to success here is using the sustainable management of food system-wide. Start with the way you plan, cook and shop for food at home. Recent studies by Penn State University reveal that the average American family wastes over one third of the food they buy. In dollars, that amounts to more than $200 billion dollars in food going into the tip. Here’s what you can do at home to help.

• Pay attention to portion control when planning meals. Look at your recipes and adjust them if needed to reduce wasted food. This will help you cut waste and keep some of that wasted money in your pocket.

• Don’t shop for food without planning first. Make a menu and build your shopping list from that. Shopping without a good list leads to more impulse buying and after spending a lot of money you may still lack what you need to make all the meals for the week. Making extra shopping trips, unnecessary trips, costs you both money and time. Making a good plan saves food, time and money.

•  Plan on using leftovers for a meal later in the week. Last night’s meatloaf will work fine in tonight’s vegetable beef soup, chili or pasta dish. Monday’s fried chicken is a brilliant start for Wednesday’s chicken pot pie. This is one way smart restaurant owners and commercial kitchen managers keep quality high and manage food costs.

• Do an inventory before making your shopping list. You will avoid spending for food you don’t need and be better able to plan your menu.

• Store food properly. Divide family pack meats into meal-sized portions and freeze anything you aren’t using right away. Keep fresh fruit like bananas and tomatoes separate from other vegetables. Watch the humidity setting on the bins in your refrigerator.This will help prevent spoilage. Rotate the produce in your fridge when you restock so that the oldest items get eaten first.

• Pack items like fresh celery, baby carrots and raw broccoli in plastic or glass containers with a paper towel or folded up brown sandwich bag underneath to control moisture and slow down spoilage.

Combat Hunger and Waste in Your Community

Every community, every small town and big city struggles with hunger and homelessness. Most people probably think there is little one person or one family can do to help. Here are some ways you can make a difference in your community:

Talk to people you know and think about what will make a difference for addressing hunger and food waste. Get petitions started or use social media to get people invested. Your group is more powerful than you know. Work with the local council, area grocery stores and restaurants to establish community kitchens and food banks. It’s a good way to redirect excess food to the people in most need. Groups like Feeding America and the United Way offer helpful information and tools to get you started.

Partner with local government members to establish and support community gardens and sorting facilities for food. You can enlist workers from the community or encourage the homeless or needy families to get involved. The sorting facility can receive excess food from local farmers, restaurants, supermarkets and bakeries and then distribute it to the community kitchens.

Be active and talk to people. The only substantial progress ever made happens from the ground up. People just like you taking action, sharing the message and getting results. Government alone cannot make a difference, but you, your friends and neighbors can.

Get Started

You can see the problem in your own home and community. Get involved and get informed. Visit your local college or university website for valuable free information and resources. Talk to local leaders, clergy of all faiths, and community organizers. They will be glad to work with you and maybe point the way to tools and ideas you missed.