What Can We Do about Hunger?

3, 4, 5

In this lesson, students explore the issue of food insecurity in their community. Using the table as a theme, students design and carry out a service-learning project that addresses the issue of child hunger in the United States. They bring their time, talent, and treasure to the table.

Focus Question: What can we do to address the issue of child hunger in our community?

Lesson Rating 
Four 45-Minute Sessions, plus time to carry out a service project

The learner will:

  • deduce patterns and discover a "rule" through a word game.
  • investigate child hunger locally or in the U.S.
  • compute hunger statistics using ratio and researched local statistics.
  • identify time, talent, and treasure students can bring to the table.
  • prepare for the service experience with planning and goal setting.
  • take action through designing and carrying out a service to address the issue of child hunger.
  • use communication skills to advocate, promote, and demonstrate.
  • one small tablecloth
  • Internet access to view hunger statistics
  • read-aloud copy of Mama Panya's Pancakes by Mary and Rich Chamberlin
  • supplies for building or decorating a table or mural of a table
  • student copies of Handout One: Brainstorm Your Time, Talent, and Treasure and Handout Two: Taking Action Record Sheet
  • food insecurity: the risk or fear of not having consistent access to food that meets people's dietary needs and food preferences; not being sure one will have enough food or the right food to feel full, grow, and be healthy
  • starving: not having enough food to grow or be healthy
  • hunger: an uneasy or unpleasant feeling caused by an empty stomach
  • community: A group of people living in the same area and under the same government; a group having common interests and goals and who work together
  • ratio: the relationship in quantity, amount, or size between two or more things
  • philanthropy: giving or sharing time, talent, and treasure or taking action for the common good



Read: The ostrich is known to “bury its head in the sand.” While animal experts agree that this is not really true, an ostrich is said to be avoiding reality. We say that someone who buries their head in the sand is someone who chooses not to see what is really going on. This is one way many people choose to look at child hunger. They cover their eyes hoping that no one expects them to be part of the solution to this problem. Or they bury their heads in the sand in an effort to avoid having to see the problem for what it is. That way they don’t feel the need to be involved in being part of the solution to the problem.

Discuss: Child hunger does not go away just because we think we can “hide” from it. How can we avoid “hiding” ourselves from this issue? How can we share with others that food insecurity won't go away on its own? How can our table project help people stop burying their heads in the sand?



  1. Teacher Note: How do you address the issue of hunger with young people if some of your students have personal experience with hunger?

    First of all, be sensitive as you discuss the issue, being careful not to speak negatively about circumstances or as if the problem is distant. Students who have personal experience with hunger may have good ideas about what helps, and may be the best advocates for getting help for others. There are many projects students can do that do not require contributions of money or food items. Students may share ideas, skills, hard work, artistic talent, or an activist voice. Raising awareness of and visibility to the issue are important elements of service that do not require “treasure.” By spending time on studying hunger issues in the community and guiding students to take action, you bring a loving heart to the table.

    Anticipatory Set

    Have the students count off from 1 to 5. Have each student that said five move to the side of the room. Tell the students that if our whole class represents all the children in the U.S., this group of fives represents the number of children who are hungry in the U.S. This means that 1 in 5 children in this classroom, school and local community are thinking about where their next meal will come from. Challenge them to use math skills to figure out numbers such as, "If there were 1,000 children in the community, how many would one infive be? What if there were 100,000?" Use ratios that fit the skills of your students. Name the number of children in your own community, and ask them to estimate how many are likely to be food insecure.

    Note: use inclusive language, keeping in mind that students participating in this discussion may be hungry. Honor the idea that they may want to keep this private and/or especially interested in doing something to address the issue.

  2. Say, "Sometimes families gather around a table that doesn't have enough food on it. Today we are going to talk about bringing something to those tables."

  3. Investigation: Write the term "food insecurity" on the board. Ask the students to share what they think the term means. Share with them that "in the United States, one out offive children lives in a food-insecure household, which means they do not always know where they will find their next meal." Tell them thatchildren in need of food live right in their own school, community and in other parts of the world.

  4. Print some facts about children who are hungryfrom this fact page and have students read and report on parts of the data: http://feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-facts/child-hunger-facts.aspx If students have access to computers, allow small groups to explore the "Map the Meal Gap" page of Feeding America's website. This interactive map provides data about hunger needs in local communities. http://feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-studies/map-the-meal-gap.aspx

  5. Get students thinking about their role in the issue by asking, "What do you think we can do about the issue of child hunger in the U.S. or our community?"

  6. Day Two

  7. Share this observation from a student who participated in a service-learning project in which backpacks of food were sent home to families in the school. "To me this is such a big deal. We don't have much food in my house and my parents don't make a lot of money. There are five family members in my house and when we are low on money, we don't have enough to buy food. We have to plan on how we're going to get by with the food that we have over several days until my parents earn enough money to buy more. When I heard about this program and brought home food, my parents were thrilled! It is such a blessing for my family to be able to eat three meals each weekend. We are all so much happier when we are not hungry." --Ariel, grade 6

  8. Discuss what it might feel liketo plan to make asmall amount of food last for severaldays. Discuss how hunger can affect students' mood, ability to concentrate, health, and school performance. Encourage students to share their thoughts on the importance of everyone having enough to eat.

  9. Ask the students to share with the class ideas that they think might help provide food for children who are food insecure. List their suggestions on the board (share hunger statistics with the community; collect canned food; help in a food kitchen; raise money to donate). Even if your students in your classroom are experiencing food insecurity, they may be interested in contributing to addressing the issue for the sake of their family and others like them.

  10. Define or review the term philanthropy as "giving time, talent and treasure for the sake of another, or taking action for the common good." Tell the students that helpingchildren who are hungry is an act of philanthropy. Encourage them to list reasons why helping children get food is good for everyone in the community. And tell them when they work as philanthropists together, they can make a bigger difference than (an adult) working alone.

  11. Review the list that they helped to create, and tell them to talk about this with their families tonight and bring more ideas to the table tomorrow.

  12. Day Three

    Tell the students about a middle schooler who made a difference by leading a group of students to take action together to magnify their giving. Aulona Graham-Sims is the organizer of Kids for Change: Nourishing Minds, Battling Hunger. In this youth-led program, middle school students make and sell bracelets and other items to purchase food for local food banks. Auluno recently inspired students from three local middle schools to design 1,706 items to raise awareness about childhood hunger and led students to "Wear Jeans for Canned Goods," which motivated students to collect over 2,000 canned goods. This young person applied creativity to remedy an unjust situation.

  13. Read aloud Mama Panya's Pancakes by Mary and Rich Chamberlin. Before reading, review the discussion from Day One. Tell the students you are going to read a book about one happy and crowded table.

  14. During reading, ask the students to infer what the story says about the value of community. Discuss how different cultures have traditions around a table and infer why the table is a good place for that.

  15. After reading, ask the students how the boy Adika felt when he invited people from the community to the pancake feast. How did the mother feel? And why did it work in the end? What gifts do people bring besides food and money that bring joy? (friendship, help, kindness) Ask how we might benefit from helping children in our community. Ask how the people whoreceive the help might benefit.

  16. Preparation:

  17. Tell the students that they are going to design and carry out a service project called, "What Will You Bring to the Table?" Part of the project involves decorating or building a table to help children who are hungry. They may use a real table, a mural of a table, or a tablecloth set up in the lunchroom. They may be creative about their table and where it is displayed. The table may be a collection site for donations or a display that teaches others about the needs ofchildren inthe United Stateswho are hungry.

  18. Refer to the list started in Day Two. Students may add to the list after talking to their families about ideas.

  19. Suggest that one group of students researches the need in the community by calling a local shelter or food bank to find out what is needed. Another group of students may discuss how to include other people in the school or community into the project. Another group of students may determine how they will advertise their project. Another group of students may start designing plans for the table. Direct this project based on the interest, enthusiasm, and skills of your students.

  20. (Teacher's Note: Using the Food Bank Locator, locate food banks in the community that the class might consider partnering with to help with the food drive project. This site also tells about the hunger statistics in your community. www.feedingamerica.org/zip_code.jsp)

  21. Day Four and Beyond

    Action, Reflection, and Demonstration:

  22. Take action on the service-learning project over the next several days or weeks. Engage the students in critical thinking and problem solving as questions and challenges arise. Help them recognize that they are making a difference.

  23. Here is one project idea: Have the students raise their hands if they have ever thrown away food at home or at school. Tell them that there is enough food in the world to feed everyone, and the challenge is getting it to thechildren who need it. Americans throw away nearly half of their food. This article about food waste also includes some tips for using every bit of food. Share these ideas with the students to raise awareness of ways we can reduce food waste: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/21/food-waste-americans-throw-away-food-study_n_1819340.html#slide=1193348

  24. Challenge the students to each write one creative idea for how people can use food they typically throw away. These ideas may be published and shared in a newsletter, on a bulletin board, on an interactive website, or in a booklet format that is printed and shared to advocate for reducing waste. Have the students decide on the best format for publishing and sharing.

  25. As students work on thehunger project centered around a table, they can document what they are doing, keep graphs and records of food collected and donated, if you are collecting treasure. Reflect with students daily on how it is going, what needs to be done, and how they feel about their work. They may use the handout "Taking Action Record Sheet" for documenting their service experience.

  26. Reflect on how their service project is going. Have students sit around a table to discuss what time, talent, and treasurepeople can "bring to the table" to reduce child hunger. Discuss the class results. Sample questions: How do you feel about what you are bringing to the table? Why is a table a good place to discuss hunger and bring the community together? Is our project important or making a difference to children who are hungry?

  27. After the project is complete, involve the students in reporting on the project in a formal demonstration that may include delivering supplies, thanking people who helped, and creatively demonstrating the success of the project. Be sure to tell the media and school community about the success. The demonstration may include a display of numbers and student work on the table. Invite families to view the demonstration, which may be a presentation or display.

Cross Curriculum 

The studentsdesign and carry out a service project called, "What Will You Bring to the Table?" The project involves taking action toaddress the issue of childhood hunger in their community through a food drive or awareness campaign. Part of the project involvesdecorating or building a table and displaying it in the communityto helpchildren who are hungry. They may use a real table, a mural of a table, or a tablecloth set up in the lunchroom. They may be creative about their table and where it is displayed. The table may be a collection site for donations or a display that teaches others about the needs ofchildren who are hungry. The table can also be a gathering place for conversations about hunger and what they can do to address the issue.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.1 Define philanthropy as the giving and sharing of time, talent, or treasure intended for the common good.
      2. Benchmark E.3 Recognize that citizens have a responsibility for the common good as defined by democratic principles.
    2. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.6 Explain why acting philanthropically is good for the community, state, nation, or world.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark E.3 Describe a benefit of group cooperation.
    2. Standard PCS 06. Philanthropy in History
      1. Benchmark E.2 Give an example of an individual who used social action to remedy an unjust condition.
  3. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
      1. Benchmark E.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.
    2. Standard VS 03. Providing Service
      1. Benchmark E.1 Provide a needed service.
    3. Standard VS 04. Raising Private Resources
      1. Benchmark E.3 Describe a service plan.
    4. Standard VS 05. Integrating the Service Experience into Learning
      1. Benchmark E.2 Evaluate progress on the service-learning project before, during, and after the project.
      2. Benchmark E.3 Identify outcomes from the service.

Academic Standards

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