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Monday, June 17, 2013

Helping the Hungry

According to the latest statistics, the US has about 50.1 million people who are food insecure--basically, they don't know where their next meal is coming from.  About 16.7 million of those are children.  Think about those numbers.  That means the number of hungry children in our country is equivalent to the total populations of Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago COMBINED.  This in a country with the technology, resources and ability to resolve this horrendous problem.  It's just plain wrong.  Every county in our country has a food insecurity problem.  Some are low (the lowest is Steel County, ND at 5%).  Some are amazingly high (the highest is Holmes County, MS at a staggering 37%). 

Yes, the government does help a little bit.  SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program--also known as food stamps) helps millions of Americans.  Unfortunately, many controlling governmental budgets and regulations see SNAP as a bit lower on the totem pole for funding than other things.  Many say that people who use SNAP just need to get a job (although 40% of households on SNAP have at least one working person in it).  Many say that it promotes a lifetime of government dependency (although the average time on SNAP is just 8-10 months).  Many say that SNAP recipients are mooching off of the taxpayer's money (although SNAP funding ends up being about $1.40 per person per meal per day--try feeding your family on that). 

In reality, government legislation is the only way to truly eliminate the problem.  Hunger in America was almost wiped out during the 1970's.  But funds were cut in the '80's and the problem grew into the monster we have today.  So while we wait around for a government that will dedicate itself to destroying this affliction (and there are some in Congress who are leaders in this cause--futilely, unfortunately in many cases), it is up to us--private citizens to help those in need in our local areas. 

5.1% of American households used food from food pantries and other organizations in 2011.  That's 6.1 million households.  A huge number, but small compared to the 50.1 million who need them.  Virtually every town in our area has food pantries to help those in the community who need help to just keep food in their kids' bellies.

Only about 5% of food donated to help the hungry comes from private donors.  That means 95% comes from the government.  So a 10% cut in funding would require 3 times as much from private organizations--a daunting task.  But we're trying to do our part.

On June 29, St. Paul's Lutheran Church (837 Old Bethlehem Rd, Quakertown, PA, 18951--directly across from the Haycock Firehouse) will be hosting Joyful Noise V, a day-long festival to benefit the 3 food pantries in Quakertown--the Quakertown Food Pantry, St. Isidore's Food Pantry and Milford Square Shelter100% of profits from the day will be spilt between these three worthy groups, which assist thousands in our community.  We raise funds from personal and corporate donations, food and raffle ticket sales and "passing the bucket" after each performance.

Put on every other year since 2005, we have raised over $20,000 for our charities and have collected hundreds of pounds of food.  The festival is FREE (yes, free), although we ask that guests bring food donations as "admission".  Gates open at 10 AM and music starts at 11 and will run all day.  (Bring a chair, too.)

Seven performances will entertaining the crowd all day:

St. Paul's Joyful Noise Band (our "house band"): 11:00-11:30 
Deb Capece (singer/songwriter): 11:55-12:25
Once Called Saul (Quakertown-based rock band): 12:50-1:20
BASIC (contemporary choir from Allentown): 1:45-2:15
Ian Holmes (American Idol contestant from the Lehigh Valley): 2:40-3:25 
Caribbean Steel Rhythms (steel drum band from the Lehigh Valley): 3:50-4:50
Greater Shiloh Music Ministry (gospel/R&B choir): 5:15-6:15

In addition to the great music, you can enjoy a classic car cruise, historic church tours, great food, lots of fun activities for the kids, local artists and crafters and more!

Please call 215-536-5789 with any questions.  Check out our Facebook page and please help to spread the word so we can work together to assist those many in our area who need these important programs to survive.  I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Smart Cook-out

Well, the weather's heating up and that means that many of us will be having periodic cook-outs with friends and family.  It's one of the joys of this time of the year.

Unfortunately, some people tend to let basic food safety rules fly out the window when they move
from cooking in the kitchen to cooking outside.  That's too bad, because no one wants their guests or themselves to get sick from their cook-out.

So let's take a quick look at some basic, but very important, tips for making your cook-out a safe time for everyone.
  • The first thing you should always do--no matter where you're cooking--is to make sure your hands are washed well.  Do this before, during and after cooking. 
  • If you haven't already, before you grill any kind of meat, go out and buy a food thermometer.  Measuring the temperature is the only true way of telling if something is cooked enough or not.  Yes, there are all sorts of tricks to test doneness by touch or sight, but they aren't foolproof.  Take the temperature and you can't go wrong.  Burgers should be cooked to 155 degrees and steaks/roasts to 145 for medium-rare or 160 for medium.  Poultry should always be cooked to 165.  The thermometer probe should be inserted into the thickest part of the meat to get the best reading.
  • Hot food should be kept hot until it is ready to be served.  So if it's done, move the stuff you're cooking to a cooler side of the grill until ready to be put out for your guests.  In the same way, cold foods should be kept cold as long as possible.  Keep them in the fridge until ready to be set out or at least in a cooler with ice.
  • The food you use should be bought no earlier than a day or two before your cook-out.  Using the freshest ingredients is a great way to combat food-borne problems. 
  • Perishable foods should not be set out for more than 2 hours before being refrigerated.  (No more than 1 hour if it's 90 degrees or more.)  No big deal.  Let every take what they want, put it in the fridge or coolers and bring it back out if you need to.
  • Speaking of coolers, always have separate coolers--one for food you will or have prepared and one for drinks.  The drink cooler will be opened again and again so any perishable food in there won't stay cold as long.  Full coolers stay cold longer, so be sure to have extra ice or ice packs to help keep the cooler as full as possible.
  • The biggest thing you need to do is avoid cross-contamination at all costs.  Have separate cutting boards for raw meat and other items.  Never put cooked meats back on the plate that held it while raw.  (I always put a sheet of foil over a plate to hold the raw meat, then remove it when you put it on the grill.  Voila!  Clean plate!)  Don't use the same utensils--knives, tongs or whatever--for raw meat and other items.  Don't reuse marinade that has had raw meat in it (although you can use it to baste the meat on the grill).
Get familiar with these simple rules and you won't have any problems when hosting your summer cook-outs.  Have fun!

For a few good grilling recipes, check out my June newsletter, which can be found on my Facebook page.