Food is the most basic human need and a fundamental human right. Yet even in America’s land of plenty, hunger is a pressing problem needing our attention and commitment to action. That is why during the month of September — Hunger Action Month — Catholic Charities is partnering with the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office of Catholic Schools, Soldier Field and the Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation to hold the inaugural “Soup-er Stadium Challenge.” The Soup-er Stadium Challenge is a multipronged effort that is much more than a food drive. At the heart of the challenge is a specially designed curriculum that educates Catholic school children about hunger and its ramifications, teaches them about the church’s response to hunger and encourages them to act to end hunger by participating in advocacy efforts, praying for relief for poor families and making a donation of nonperishable foods. The Soup-er Stadium Challenge is unique in that it encourages children not just to give charitably, but to stand in solidarity with those who don’t have enough to eat. The resulting food donations will be given with love, accompanied by the almighty power of prayer and a genuine understanding about the plight of hungry and impoverished people. These very special donations will be used to stock the shelves of Catholic Charities’ eight food pantries. The goal this year is to receive enough donations to fill every seat in Soldier Field with at least two food items — enough food for more than 100,000 meals! Many people do not realize the shocking prevalence of hunger right in our own community. The USDA uses the term “food insecurity” to describe persons or households that have limited access to safe and/or nutritionally adequate food to meet basic needs. Nearly 800,000 people in Cook and Lake counties are food-insecure; that is 14 percent of the population in Cook County, and 8 percent in Lake County, far too high given the wealth and abundance in our metropolitan area. Children have the highest food insecurity rates, with nearly 1 in 5 children in Illinois being food insecure. Anyone living in poverty is at risk of being food insecure because for those in low wage jobs or on limited fixed incomes, it is very difficult to pay for housing, medical care, child care, utilities and other necessities, and still have adequate resources to pay for nutritious food. Also, many poor communities do not have proper grocery stores, and so access to healthy foods is further restricted. The consequences of hunger can be devastating, especially for vulnerable populations such as seniors and children. Not having access to nutritious foods can contribute to numerous medical conditions including asthma, depression, heart disease, anemia, diabetes and obesity. It might be surprising that obesity is related to food insecurity, but people often are forced to buy the cheapest, most readily available foods to fill empty bellies, and those are typically the most unhealthy foods. For children, hunger can also lead to learning difficulties, poor academic achievement and a variety of behavioral problems including anxiety, aggression, hyperactivity and mood swings. Whether they come to one of Catholic Charities’ food pantries, shop at one of our Women, Infant and Children grocery stores or participate in one of our numerous meal programs, hunger is the No. 1 reason people come to Catholic Charities. We consider all of our food and nutrition programs the very essential first step in helping people escape poverty. Without access to nutritious food to nourish the body and mind, it is very hard to overcome poverty. During Hunger Action Month, let us join with the schoolchildren and take up the Soup-er Stadium Challenge, standing in solidarity with our hungry brothers and sisters, and giving them the hope and concrete help that they need to thrive. For more information visit souperstadiumchallenge.org.