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Zorba Paster: Not all had enough at Thanksgiving

For many of us, the Thanksgiving week meant planning – and eating – a big festival of food. Christmas may look a lot the same. There will be turkey with all the trimmings, an abundance of good things, topped off with plenty of pumpkin pie for dessert.

But at this time when we’re enjoying our celebration of the season, maybe we should take a moment to consider something else: Those who go hungry.

There are friends and neighbors, co-workers and relatives who might not have as much as we do.

A good place for those to look is the Food Bank of Western New York ( This nonprofit group provides more than 15 million pounds annually for those who need it in Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie and Niagara counties. It distributes food to more than 325 agencies including soup kitchens, food pantries, group homes, senior centers and shelters.

Since 1979, its mission has been to end hunger in Western New York through community partnerships. Easy to say, harder to do.

But is it really that difficult? There is a saying from the Talmud in Judaism: “If you save one person you save the world.”

Sometimes we think problems are too difficult for us, that what we do is only a drop in the bucket. But that’s a lie. Focusing on one person at a time helps that one person. It works.

Now what about us? Several months ago, one of the leaders of the HungerCare Coalition, a program of Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin, came to talk to my medical group about this problem. The risk of hunger is present in any age group, but the young and the old can be hit the hardest. HungerCare wanted us to ask questions in our office to screen for hunger, something I was never taught in medical school.

I was taught about the signs and symptoms of all sorts of diseases, but no one ever schooled me on how to search for hunger, for food shortages. Which do you think is more common, syphilis or hunger? You can guess the answer.

The thing is, if you don’t eat right, no matter what you suffer from, you suffer. I have never in my life had the experience of not knowing where my next meal was going to come from, but there are some people out there who do – and you might be shocked at who they are.

The HungerCare people talked to us about adding two questions to our well-child checkup in order to screen for hunger issues, but the more I thought about this, I thought we should add these questions to all of our screenings. And then the light went on: Why don’t all of us think about asking these two questions of people who just might need our help?

Here are the key questions:

1. Within the last year, were you ever worried that you would run out of food before you got money to buy more?

2. Within the last year, were you ever worried that your food wouldn’t last?

Well, it will soon be time that we sit down for our next holiday dinner, celebrating the last year and counting our blessings. But I suggest that before we dig in to that turkey, let’s think about those in our community who don’t have as much as we have.

Yet, as my friend Judy told me, “Hope is not a plan.” We all need to take action to end hunger right here and right now.

Why don’t you commit yourself to taking a first step this holiday season? Instead of buying something for yourself, give the gift of food to someone who needs it.

That will give you a warmer feeling in your heart than some bauble that, believe me, you won’t even remember a year from now.

Stay well.

Dr. Zorba Paster hosts a radio program that airs locally at 3 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7. Email him at