American citizens are increasingly educated—and concerned—about the dramatic and unprecedented class divisions in the United States. The Occupy movement, in particular, drew attention to the gap between the richest one percent of Americans and the rest of us. A tiny sliver of the population, a few families really, control some 22 percent of all the wealth in the country, while millions of families split the rest.
This is cause for alarm, as wealth concentration brings serious problems: A shrinking middle class with declining purchasing power, and a politically connected oligarchy are among the most prominent.
At the same time, a focus on the “99 percent” obscures deeper fissures in U.S. class structure. If you are, let’s say, in the 80th or 90th percentile, you earn enough to easily cover your bills, purchase a house and some toys, send your kids to private school, and take your date night at a steakhouse. But if you are one of the 40+ million Americans living in poverty—or even in the lower middle class—you are engaged in a daily struggle just to make ends meet and to feed your family.
Nutrition is a particular challenge for low-income Americans. Accessing any food at all can be a challenge, and obtaining high-quality, nutritional meals can be virtually out of reach. A potent example is the Pine Ridge community in South Dakota, where some 30,000 people, spread across an area nearly the size of Connecticut, share just one grocery store.
A growing number of organizations have taken on the mission of delivering high-quality food to communities like Pine Ridge, where access is severely curtailed. One such group is the Boulder, Colorado-based Conscious Alliance. In fact, the group has spearheaded several efforts on the Pine Ridge reservation, including a school garden program, as well as food distribution programs that take donations from natural foods companies and get them into the hands of schoolchildren to supplement their weekend nutrition.
Perhaps the most innovative program from Conscious Alliance is their Art that Feeds food drive. The organization sets up shop at music festivals—tapping into a demographic with enough disposable income that they can comfortably drop a few hundred dollars for a weekend of music. Fans donate food by the thousands of pounds in exchange for a commemorative poster. The food gets trucked to nearby food pantries. Art that Feeds has a major impact, providing more than 65,000 meals to those in need.
For the organizers at Conscious Alliance, working around hunger is a key, positive intervention in the lives of kids. “If we can jump start a child’s life at early development with healthier food, it creates a healthier body … then there is ripple effect, toward a healthier mind and spirit,” says Walt Pourier, the organization’s strategy coordinator. “It’s not just for our Native youth, it’s for all youth. It’s a humanity thing.”