Hunger is a global problem that affects people all over the world even in America. It may not appear as so because our media tends to focus on starving families in third world countries instead of highlighting the ones living in our backyards.
According to Feeding America, a domestic organization that provides hunger relief, about 42 million Americans including children, seniors and veterans living on low income are affected by hunger. The charity has set up food banks and pantries across the nation, but there's still plenty of stomachs that need to be filled and one man, Roman Espinoza, is trying his best to make a difference.
The 46-year-old veteran served for 25 years in the army before pursuing a college degree in Chemical Dependency and Human Services at Jefferson Community College in Watertown, New York. While working on his double major, Espinoza noticed that there was a food pantry set up at the college, which came as a surprise.
"I was like 'wow, I did not know that colleges have food pantries,'" he told Goodhousekeeping.com. "I just assumed that if you could afford to go to school, then you could afford to eat."
His realization pushed him to do some research on hunger in the U.S. which led him to discover blessing boxes. On college presentation day, he shared his idea with the school, his professors and classmates and with their support he began to set up his very own blessing box.
Click on the next page to see how Espinoza's blessing box is making a difference.
A blessing box is a small pantry with non-perishable food items and other everyday essentials that anyone in the community can access for free.
Having experienced poverty, Espinoza knows what it is like to go without a meal so he didn't think twice about setting up a blessing box on his front yard.
"Sometimes we didn't have three meals a day. I know what it's like to go without a meal — millions of people on this earth know what it's like. You have to give back to the community and people who supported you."
He initially filled it with canned food, but the community noticed and started to offer donations in the form of food, first aid supplies and toiletries.
"All in all, it's sustained by the community, and it's used by the community," Espinoza said. "There's no age limit; there's no paperwork. We will not take any monetary donations. And next time, when you're doing a little better, you can come drop some things off in return."
The selfless veteran understands that his mini pantry is not going to eradicate hunger overnight, but it is a temporary solution that's available "just in case" until someone comes up with something better or "'til people stop using it."
"So kids and adults don't go hungry. Nobody should feel embarrassed because we all need a little help," he added.
Although Espinoza is naturally a caring person, he acknowledges that the military has had an influence on him. He claims that one of the "warrior ethos" is to be a good samaritan and help people without expecting recognition for it.
He is in turn inspiring other members of the Watertown community to set up their own blessing boxes and he's making sure it happens as soon as possible.
"With any luck, we'll have a few around town where people can be made aware of them and make use of them." Espinoza told CNN. "Watertown, New York, in the next five years, could be known as the city of blessing boxes."