Billboards are marketing tools. They are meant to inform your journey, point you towards something to fill a need, assist in direction, or call you to action. It could be a Chick-fil-A at the next exit, a real estate agent ready to sell your house, or remind you of the painful price of gas as you drive by. No matter the subject, they are meant to catch your attention.
Have you ever wished that God would simply stop using his still small "inside voice" and instead use His big loud "outside voice"? ◡̈ Me too. Maybe in your search for answers you've even said, "I wish God would just paint it on a billboard for me so I'd know what to do." I know I have, and one day, I'm pretty convinced He did for me.
It was March 18th of 2014. I remember it clearly because it was a day my life shifted. I was driving down Hwy 17 in Charleston on the way home from Hilton Head, and I saw a Feeding America billboard that simply said, "1 in 6 children is hungry". That was it. White words on a black billboard with a Feeding America logo. Simple marketing.
1 in 6? Really? Surely that can't be right. I kept driving, but it bothered me.
I got home that afternoon and couldn't stop thinking about that stat, so I started doing some Googling. Sure enough, Feeding America stat, 1 in 6 children is hungry. Really? 1 in 6? That can't be right. That's got to be some obscure stat based on some obscure metric.
Later I was doing some online shopping, and an ad popped up on the sidebar (as they do when you Google things). Feeding America - 1 in 6 children is hungry. Really? 1 in 6?
At this point, I was more than curious; I was frustrated that this kind of misinformation would be spread to purposefully tug on people's hearts regarding children. So I stopped what I was doing and dug a little deeper, desperate to clear this up. For two hours, I read articles, food insecurity reports, and bipartisan legislation and found out... it was true.
I sat back in my chair with 15 tabs open on my computer and blinked. I shook my head as if it would erase the words I'd read like an old-school etch a sketch.
This is America. This is not some far-off nation that would be known for needing food assistance. So how can this be real? 1 in 6 children...in America.
As the gravity of what I'd read began to set in, I started doing the mental math. OK. If 1 in 6 children in America is considered food insecure, meaning they are unsure where their next meal is coming from, what does that look like in my state?
According to the stat available at that time and some more quick Googling, the results said 1 in 4 children. 1 in 4? Really? So then I filtered that information to my own county. A number appeared in less than four seconds, and that number changed my life.
16,880 food-insecure children in my county.
1 in 4 became more than just a stat to me that day. I now had 16,880 reasons to do something about it.
As I read, I learned that for the most part, hunger doesn't look like what you think it does. It isn't just the poorest of poor or those who are homeless or where the parents are out of work or are neglectful. Childhood food insecurity usually is found in families with two working parents, where there is simply more month than money. That's why there are so many food-insecure children... it's because life is hard and throws curveballs at us like having to choose between dinner or a doctor's visit, a few groceries or a tank of gas to get to work, healthy foods that cost more or cheaper ones with less nutritional value, or heaven forbid, a global pandemic. Childhood hunger is happening all around us, silently.
Armed with this knowledge, I came to the realization that if all of this was real, if the information was accurate and the stats weren't just numbers, and the 1 in 4 had real faces, it absolutely meant there were children in my neighborhood, at my church, in the shop I just walked out of, at my kids' schools... all around me who were not entirely sure where their next meal was coming from. It had been all around me all the time, and I had no idea. My heart broke into 1,000 pieces.
As the reality of this new information began to set in, so did the sound of His voice in that quiet pause at my computer.
"You've seen it. Now you know. I've been more than clear in my Word about feeding the hungry. So now I'm asking you to do something about it."
For the next several weeks, I began scouring his Word to hear his voice and find his heart in His mandate to feed the hungry. I didn't have to look far. It wasn't a figurative "feed the hungry" based on a metaphor or parable or play on words. It meant real food for real people. It was that billboard and those numbers and that idea that shifted something in me, and fast-forward eight years, I am still continuing to learn and be challenged by this reality.
Those early days in my journey to fight hunger catalyzed a desire in my heart to see what it would look like to make a dent in that unimaginable number. I began to look for practical ways to help, get our family involved, and make a difference. I aligned with several local and national organizations, food banks and food drives, and learned the power of petitioning local and national leaders when legislation was pending regarding feeding children. In late 2020, while pandemic numbers were climbing and food insecurity was at an all time high, I came on board with HALF UNITED, a lifestyle brand committed to fighting hunger and empowering those in need in the USA and around the globe, where I now serve as their COO. I can't do it all, and none of it hinges on me alone, but I've seen it, and now I know, and I'm responsible for doing something about it. All because of a billboard.
So, as far as I'm concerned, I have 16,880 reasons to do my part and shine the light on what is happening all around us. The need is real, right here in America. Right here in my state. Right here in my tiny county.
You never know what will happen when you're just driving down the road, minding your own business in your life and God shows up with a billboard and changes everything.
Until that number is 0,
"Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon." - Isaiah 58:10
(I am not sponsored by or have direct affiliation with Feeding America - but if you're curious to learn more or want to find ways to get involved, these are just some great places to start.)