How will we feed 50 million hungry Americans?

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By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor

My 82-year-old aunt recently packed her granddaughter’s car trunk full of food—including bags of rice, pasta, and powdered milk—just in case the essential health care worker with two jobs didn’t know where her next meal would be coming from.

My wise aunt knows what we all should know: Hunger is a silent sickness. People with jobs as well as those without don’t have enough food. Workers providing essential services are hungry. College students are hungry. Children are very hungry. The nonprofit group Feeding America estimates more than 50 million people will experience hunger in 2020 including 17 million children. Even before COVID-19, more than 35 million Americans were considered food insecure. The pandemic has exacerbated the problem. Now, one is six people in the U.S. are projected to be hungry this year.

Among them (clockwise from top left): Luz Rodriguez, who has been jobless since the 87-year-old man she cared for for 15 years died of COVID-19; George Sanches, who lost his job at a high school because of the pandemic; Soja Pintong and Muhammad Mostafa, who were both waiting to pick up food at the Queens pantry CENTI (pictured at the top of this article).

Food banks and other service providers are working aggressively to keep up with demand. From March through the end of October, U.S. food banks distributed 4.2 billion meals. More than 80 percent of food banks are serving more people than they did last year. Safety nets are being stretched by the historic need. Two thirds of Feeding America’s food banks are accepting volunteers. Before COVID-19, food banks depended on nearly 2 million volunteers per month. Since the pandemic began, volunteerism is down as the need accelerates. (Below, Maria Quinteres, wearing a face mask bearing the American flag, is among hundreds waiting in line for free food boxes one Friday from Latinos Unidos, a grassroots group.)

Chef Jose Andres and his World Central Kitchen is attacking hunger wherever he finds it with emergency food relief. Chef David Chang last week donated the $1 million proceeds from winning it all on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (with a life-changing assist from ESPN’s Mina Kimes) to Southern Smoke, a group created to help those in the food and restaurant industry in times of crisis. Chef Chris Williams created the nonprofit Lucille’s 1913 to feed the elderly and other vulnerable groups in Texas. Individuals, celebrities and corporations are addressing unprecedented demand. Singer Dionne Warwick is hosting a virtual 80th birthday party this week to focus attention on the relief efforts of Hunger: Not Impossible. The Walt Disney Company, the parent company of National Geographic, has teamed up with Feeding America for #FEEDTHELOVE, a campaign to expand access to healthy foods.

From Queens to Appalachia and from Minneapolis to Houston, National Geographic is telling the story of hunger in America and the work happening across the country to ensure that no person is hungry. (Pictured below, a community refrigerator in Queens where people can drop off or pick up food donations.)

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Today in a minute

Beg your pardon? American presidents have used pardons for 225 years, from the Whiskey Rebellion to Watergate—and beyond. With presidential pardons in the news, Erin Blakemore writes about their history, including a move by some of the Founding Fathers to prevent presidents from having the power. One Framer was so distressed that a president would be allowed to pardon criminals that he abstained from signing the Constitution.

79 years ago today: Japan’s warplanes bombed the U.S. Navy in Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor, plunging the United States into World War II. (Pictured above, the exploding USS Shaw). The day changed the lives of tens of millions of Americans, including Harry T. Stewart Jr., who would become one of the 1,000 African American aviators trained at Tuskegee College. (Hear stories from Stewart and other WWII survivors here.) Just before announcing the momentous news to America, President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed a key word in his speech, scratching out the words “world history” and scribbling “infamy,” then declaring December 7, 1941 as a “date which will live in infamy.” (For you armchair historians, here’s an image of the edit.)

Not exactly forgiveness: What prompted Frederick Douglass to visit the man who had enslaved him? The enslaver, Thomas Auld, sick and palsied at 81, asked to see the famous orator, who had escaped his clutches decades earlier. The old man said he understood Douglass’s reasons for running away to freedom—and said he would have done the same thing. “I did not run away from you, but from slavery,” Douglass responded, according to his autobiography. His answer did not signify forgiveness, merely personal reconciliation, Daryl Austin writes for Nat Geo.

Stonehenge Stonehenge Stonehenge! We asked last week, and boy, did readers respond to the question of whether Britain should go ahead with tunneling under the ancient monument. The vast majority of nearly 400 emailing readers opposed the proposed tunnel for fear of destroying valuable archeological artifacts in moving a nearby highway underground. Many suggested re-routing the surface road farther away from Stonehenge. “Please!” pleaded reader Pam Maisano. “What on Earth makes anyone think a road takes precedence over history, culture, civilization, human development, and a faith source of this magnitude?” From Franklin, a high-school sophomore in Wisconsin: “In a world where so many relics are paved over, torn down, and destroyed in the name of modern advancements, we should at least try and make exceptions for some of our oldest and most famous historical sites."

Your Instagram photo of the day

Home of a god: An Islamic cemetery spans the base of one side of Jebel Barkal, a small mountain that the ancient Kushites and Egyptians alike believed was the home of the god Amun. The legendary Kingdom of Kush, with its capitals in what is now northern Sudan, helped define the political and cultural landscape of northeastern Africa for more than a thousand years. At its height, from about 760 B.C. to 650 B.C., five Kushite kings ruled all of Egypt from Nubia to the Mediterranean.

The big takeaway

Making things right: How did the U.S. government, which brokered (and broke) treaties with Native Americans, change some of its racist policies toward America’s first peoples? Partly because of pressure by Native Americans and supporters in the 1960s and 1970s that mirrored other civil rights movements of the time, Erin Blakemore writes in a history of the movement. The protests spurred moves by Washington to give the tribes the ability to control their own affairs. The U.S. also ended many of its longstanding policies of assimilation in the 1970s and invested in Native American education and health care. “Perhaps the movement’s greatest legacy,” Blakemore writes, “is the sense of pride it left behind.” (Pictured above, people gathering on California’s Alcatraz Island in 2019 for Indigenous People’s Sunrise ceremony, also called Un-Thanksgiving Day.)

In a few words

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Last glimpse

An Iberian clue: Before the Spanish Empire, before the Moors, before the Romans, writers referred to the little-known people who populated modern-day Spain as Iberians. A 2,400-year-old funerary sculpture, buried underground for millennia, may offer some clues, Nat Geo’s History magazine reports. Known as the Lady of Baza, for the southern town in which she was found, this four-foot-high limestone sculpture depicts a bejeweled woman, richly dressed, and seated on a winged throne. Researchers say the sculpture contains influences from by Phoenician culture in the North African capital of Carthage.

A clarification: In last week’s newsletter, we left out the words “commonly cultivated”—as in three commonly cultivated North American native fruits—from a blurb on changing cranberry harvests. Yes, there are more Native American native fruits—many many many more, we were reminded by sharp-eyed readers. The upside: An education on the wonders of the pawpaw, native persimmon, and domestic blackberries.

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Jen Tse has selected the photos. Kimberly Pecoraro and Gretchen Ortega helped produce this. Have an idea or a link? We’d love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . Thanks for reading, and happy trails.

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