Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Hands Cross America: 29 Years Later

Kansas City held a Hands Across America event in solidarity with the national event
Remember last week's Red Nose Day campaign to raise money for 12 charities that work with children in our country and around the world?

Exactly 29 years ago (plus a day), on May 25, 1986, over 5 million Americans participated in another high-profile campaign. This campaign was not on television, and Facebook, Twitter and other social media did not yet exist.

On that date, participants linked hands to make a 4,125-mile human chain that stretched from New York City to Long Beach, including Albuquerque. Several communities that were not on the route held their own events in solidarity with the main chain.

At the time I was living in Kansas City, which was not on the route of the chain (although our other big city in Missouri--St Louis--was part of the chain).  And the chain went through Albuquerque, where I would eventually end up moving six years later.

Here is how Hands Across America worked: Each volunteer on the chain contributed $10 to $35 for the privilege of joining the line. There were also massive corporate contributions.  Actors Lily Tomlin and Harry Belafonte, Gov. Mario Cuomo, Mayor Ed Koch and Cardinal John O'Connor were part of the link of the chain that started n New York

In New Mexico, organizer Velia Silva said the state needed  50,000 volunteers were needed to make a solid chain across the state but, "calls have been coming in like crazy," said a United Press International article. Among the members of the task force was food activist and author Mark Winne, who is now a resident of Santa Fe, but at that time represented the Harford Food System.

The event not only raised $41 million but increased awareness about the growing problem of hunger in our country and the continuing crises of poverty and lack of food in parts of Africa and around the world (USA for Africa was a lead organizer of the event.

"They weren’t just big hand holding enthusiasts," said the online site Mental Floss on the 25th anniversary of the event. "They were participating in Hands Across America, a massive charity event and fundraiser that hoped to raise money for and draw attention to homelessness and hunger."

So what was the domestic situation regarding hunger in 1986?  According to the House Select Committee on Hunger, 13.9 million, or 41%, of the 33.7 million Americans eligible for food stamps were not receiving this assistance And more than 70% of the 20.4 million who are eligible for the Women, Infants and Children Supplemental (WIC) Feeding Program were not being served.

And who remembers this quote from then President Ronald Reagan? "I don't believe that there is anyone that is going hungry in America simply by reason of denial or lack of ability to feed them," Reagan said. "It is by people not knowing where or how to get this help."

So how do the numbers in 1986 compare with current times? "[Our] 2014 study reveals that each year, the Feeding America network of food banks provides service to 46.5 million people in need across the United States, including 12 million children and 7 million seniors,"  said Feeding America (which in 1986 was called America's Second Harvest). The methodology to address hunger in the US might have differed from 1986, and there are certainly more people aware about the programs.  Regardless, the increase in the numbers of hungry people is threefold in almost 30 years.

So what are politicians saying about hunger in our times? Stay tuned for blog posts about that issue as the presidential campaigns gear up. In the meantime, check out these videos from Barack Obama and Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential campaigns.

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