Daily donation feeds the hungry with click of a mouse
By KRIS BERGGREN
Is the Internet the technology of our dreams or a nightmare in digital disguise? Its true; e-mail and e-commerce are a boon to interpersonal communication and business transactions. And if some see cyberspace as e-vil, an uncensored marketplace accommodating bomb-makers and pornographers, others theorize that the World Wide Web is nothing less than the grand evolutionary leap projected by Jesuit Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a layer of supra-consciousness quite literally encircling our planet. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle: As with any technology from the steam engine to genetic engineering, the Internet is transforming our lives, but we choose how we will use it, for upright or lowdown purposes.
The Internet has allowed me to watch my niece and nephew in Singapore growing and changing via the uploaded digital photos my sister-in-law sends frequently. I research articles online. I even buy my familys groceries online, and now, thanks to a Web site I visit almost daily, I can help feed someone elses family across the globe, someone who probably never uses a computer, and for whom a mouse is a rodent in the rice bin.
About a year ago, I began to receive messages from friends alerting me to the existence of The Hunger Site (www.the hungersite.com), dedicated to providing information about world hunger, and a way to donate food - for free - to hungry people around the world. Too good to be true, I thought, my automatic-pilot defensiveness about advertising kicking in. Gotta be a catch. I delayed investigating, but after the third or fourth notice, curiosity overruled skepticism.
When you enter the Web site, you see a map of the world and a short message: Every 3.6 seconds, someone in the world dies of hunger; 75% of these are children. To illustrate, a country on the map flashes black every 3.6 seconds. India, which just marked its billionth birth, is the country that most frequently flashes. Several African countries like Nigeria and Sudan are next, then China, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and other Asian nations. Far more infrequently, yet always too frequently, Mexico or Brazil dims.
Any visitor to the site may click on the button marked donate food and a certain amount of grain, usually 1 1/2-2 cups, is donated to the United Nations World Food Program for distribution to these places where it is needed. The food is funded by site sponsors, ranging from printing companies to concert promoters to purveyors of international art and crafts. The idea behind this new-age almsgiving is to patronize the sponsoring sites, of course. I admit that I check out the sponsors from a sense of duty, but have yet to patronize them.
The first few times I visited the site, I would watch the countries flash for long minutes, waiting to see which would be next. The United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia have never flashed, to my knowledge. I was mesmerized. I bookmarked the site, since Im on the Internet almost every day. Ive developed a habit. One of the first things I do, sometimes before I check e-mail, sometimes afterwards, is to make my daily donation.
Now, I know this form of charity does not replace other work to feed the hungry. I gladly support my childrens school involvement in working at a food shelf. My family makes Sunday breakfast at a homeless shelter several times a year. And wasting food is a big no-no at my house. I even discourage the use of the word starving as in Mom, Im starving. Whats for dinner? No, child, youre not starving, youre hungry. Starving is something youll probably never know.
When we pray the prayer Jesus taught us, we ask for our daily bread - we are mindful of our interdependence. In this prayer, we acknowledge that what we have is given, not earned. My family doesnt worry about getting our material bread; our bellies rarely grumble, much less roar the drowning hunger so many millions endure. Both kinds of hunger squelch spiritual peace: the real, physical hunger that can kill the body, and the spiritual hunger too many of us experience as our round-the-clock infotainment society - indeed fueled by the Internet among other sources - gnaws at our souls. What I figure is that my simple ritual of clicking my mouse each day to donate a couple of cups of rice or wheat, in conjunction with the 65 million other clicks the site reports since its inception, we may yet come closer to satisfying all kinds of hunger. Then the Internet will truly have transformed all of our lives.
Kris Berggren writes from Minneapolis. Her e-mail address is email@example.com
National Catholic Reporter, July 28, 2000