In case you missed breakfast this morning or skipped lunch because of a hectic afternoon, Maurice Smith can relate.
Over the next 40 days, the executive director of a nonprofit organization called Feed Spokane will forego around 120 meals as part of a mission to raise awareness for area residents who go without food far too often.
Smith, who launched Feed Spokane in March 2007, will continue his fast through March 28, subsisting on a diet featuring no more than fruit juice and broth.
“My goal for this fast is to draw attention to the growing reality of hunger in our community and to challenge churches, civic and community organizations, restaurants and individuals to get involved and make a difference in eliminating hunger,” Smith said.
|As executive director of Feed Spokane, Maurice Smith works with local restaurants and other food providers to deliver nutrition to programs like Spokane Valley Meals on Wheels and the YWCA. Smith embarked on a 40-day fast this week to raise awareness for local residents coping with hunger. Photo by Craig Howard
The timing of the fast, Smith said, comes at a time when food banks, meal sites and shelters are experiencing a downturn in donations and volunteers. While the holiday season typically brings an increase in attention for the less fortunate, Smith emphasized that “people are still hungry in January.”
“This hasn’t gone away just because it’s not on the front page,” he said.
The year-round need was the main reason Smith began the idea for Feed Spokane just around five years ago. After volunteering for a church outreach effort that helped provide food for residents of the West Central community, Smith started a pilot project with help from Spokane Neighborhood Action Programs. After several years with SNAP, Smith established Feed Spokane as a separate nonprofit agency in 2007.
The basis of the effort involves collecting food from restaurants and other meal providers and distributing the surplus to nonprofit groups like Spokane Valley Meals on Wheels, the Volunteers of America Hope House and YWCA. Participating benefactors include Arby’s, the Davenport Hotel, the Spokane Convention Center, Papa Murphys and more.
“It makes so much sense for restaurants to support this program,” said Pam Almeida, executive director of Spokane Valley Meals on Wheels. “The more restaurants that join, the more people will be fed. We’re so wasteful in America – this is a great way to cut out that waste.”
Almeida said the donations from Feed Spokane help supplement the food her agency provides and have made it possible to start an evening meal program at Opportunity Presbyterian Church on Pines Road.
“Anything we didn’t receive from Feed Spokane would have to be purchased meaning it would cut down on how many meals we could serve,” Almeida said.
Smith works closely with officials from the Spokane Regional Health District to ensure that all donated food is stored securely and safe to eat. Feed Spokane utilizes freezers at the Meals on Wheels kitchen to keep meals.
A native of North Carolina, Smith was still in high school when he volunteered for a outreach program to support soldiers returning from the Vietnam War. He and a friend worked out of a donated space, handing out coffee and cookies to displaced veterans.
“I just realized we were not doing all we should to care for these folks,” Smith said. “I think it’s important that we care for people who cannot take care of themselves for one reason or another.”
Smith earns a small stipend for his work as executive director, a task that includes collecting and delivering food across a wide area each week. The need for volunteers, food and monetary contributions is a constant priority. Food donations are down 30 percent from last year.
“I didn’t get into this for the money,” Smith said. “It’s a sense of calling and the realization of the problem that is there.”
As for the 40-day fast – something he accomplished two years ago – Smith said the first and last weeks are the most challenging. He scales back to one meal a day prior to the start and keeps his doctor’s phone number handy “in case something comes up.”
“Fasting has always had a profound spiritual impact on my life,” Smith said.
While Smith hopes to get the word out about hunger through giving up food, he is quick to point out that area residents can make their own difference in the effort to end hunger. Throughout March, select restaurants in the greater Spokane area will participate in the “Dine Out to Feed Spokane,” donating a percentage of their profits to benefit Feed Spokane. Smith also encourages residents to skip the occasional meal and donate what they would have spent on food to help the relief cause.
Churches and community organizations can sponsor food drives, Smith said. He also continues to encourage grocery stores, restaurants and other food outlets to “eliminate waste and hunger by donating perishable and prepared food items to Feed Spokane.”
“I think people want to be a part of something good,” Smith said. “If everyone would bring their piece of the puzzle to the table, we could accomplish some great things.”
Want to find out more?
To learn more about Feed Spokane, contact Maurice Smith at 216-7364 or visit www.feedspokane.com. To see a list of restaurants participating in “Dine Out to Feed Spokane,” go to www.nutritionwsda.org. Spokane Valley Meals on Wheels can be reached at 924-6976.