More than 800 million people throughout the world suffer from inadequate access to food.
According to a United States Department of Agriculture report in 2003, 9.6 million United
States residents go to bed -- and wake up -- hungry. In Canada, 2.4 million citizens are
plagued with hunger, a little less than 9% of the country's population. In the supposedly
prosperous nation, one in ten households do not have enough food to meet their daily
basic needs. An additional 36.3 million Americans are food insecure -- meaning they
have inadequate food supplies and are at risk of going hungry. Although food
distribution agencies are located throughout the United States and Canada, they are
unable to accommodate the rising demands of a needy populace.
Since 1998, pantries, food kitchens, and shelters have reported a dramatic increase in
the number of people needing assistance. Fueling this mounting problem are the nation's
elderly; due to health problems, fixed incomes, and high prescription drug costs, many
in the growing elderly population are forced to use emergency food assistance. At the
other end of the age spectrum, more than one quarter of a million children are lining
up in soup kitchens for their meals. The demands have resulted in critical food shortages
for the service agencies. In a recent report, an average of 26.2% of community programs
in the United States cited shortages of cereal, rice, and pasta products, and some
18.3% of agencies polled said they needed more canned foods to be able to serve the
people depending on them for food. Many of the service programs have resorted to
rationing the available food.
Low literacy skills are another critical social problem plaguing the world. The
National Literary Secretariat of Canada concludes that 42% of adult Canadians lack
the literacy skills to fully participate in their environment. Research has shown a
strong correlation between low literacy skills and poverty, making it highly probable
that persons whose bodies are starved for food are also starved for knowledge.
According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, 43% of adults
at the lowest level of literacy proficiency live in poverty. But it is the children
that live in poverty that are the most at risk and the most difficult to reach.
Experts claim that the most successful way to improve the reading achievement of
low-income children is to increase their access to books. An estimated 61% of
impoverished children have no books in their homes and have no parent or adult
willing or able to provide them the essential one-on-one reading time essential
to the development of a growing mind. Many rural schools either have no libraries
or libraries that are inadequate to meet students' needs. Rural public libraries,
often the primary source of reading material for children living in isolated areas,
are facing increasing financial hardships and are unable to buy the books their
young readers require.
Project Graduation aims to address two real societal issues, hunger and low literacy
skills. Most food and book donation activities occur during the holiday seasons.
Project Graduation picks up in the summer, when service agency resources are lagging.
Using an established community event - college commencements - the program has the
perfect venue for collecting donations. Tapping this resource and providing
commencement attendees an avenue through which to give back to their communities
increases the number of materials available to organizations struggling to meet the
high demand during this period of shortage.