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Renewing an old resolution for another year

Every year at about this time, I find myself thinking about the nature of change. It seems an appropriate thing to contemplate in a culture that prizes the late-December resolution. No matter where we turn, we find evidence of our fellow Americans getting religion: "Next year," we say, "I will not "; or, "I will focus on "; or, "I promise to "

And yet, as an advocate for hunger relief in this country and beyond, I find myself wondering about the wisdom -- and effectiveness -- of an approach that demands we press the reset button every January. After all, devising a long-term fix to the hunger crisis (which affects nearly 50 million Americans) is not something we can reasonably expect to accomplish in 12 months.

Although our failure to solve the problem should not overshadow the strides we've made to lessen it, nor should it automatically cause us, every given number of weeks, to abandon strategies that hold genuine promise for the children, seniors and others who wake up each morning uncertain where they'll find their next meal.

Introspection serves an important purpose, both individually and communally. But sometimes we get so caught up in the rush to reinvent ourselves that we forget real change takes time -- frequently more time than we are willing to allow.

Here the issue of hunger is instructive. Similar to a large ship steaming in one direction, hunger cannot be made to reverse course overnight. Public policies that promote individual responsibility and prioritize work can lead to landmark legislation capable of turning the ship around -- programs such as SNAP (formerly called the Food Stamp Program), the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and a broad range of initiatives aimed at strengthening childhood nutrition.

This legislation offers some results quickly: Parents gain the resources they need for child care, which enables them to look for jobs; men and women struggling to make ends meet in a shifting economy find support as they build skills in new and emerging industries. But translating this progress into a sustainable hunger solution demands -- among other things -- that we allow these investments to bear fruit.

For those of us in the nonprofit world, it's a difficult challenge: trying to draw attention to ongoing social concerns at precisely the time most Americans are eager to get a fresh start. I believe we can do it by encouraging people to recognize that turning the page on a new year does not mean turning our backs on the old one.

This season offers us a vital opportunity to reflect on a year's worth of experiences and determine where we need to make adjustments. But it's equally critical to resist the impulse to judge prematurely -- and to recognize that, sometimes, the best New Year's resolution is simply to look to the horizon and continue full steam ahead.

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Joel E. Jacob is chairman of the board of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger (http://mazon.org).

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