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Phoenix Forward

Feeding the faces of hunger

An illustration of hands reaching for a peice of fruit

Gabriel Mayer’s faith in humankind and community inspires local charity

Ask Dr. Gabriel Mayer what he sees in the faces of the hungry and he has more than one answer, “I see fear. I see hunger. I see alienation and I see sadness.”

Mayer, who teaches in the College of Natural Sciences at three local University of Phoenix campuses in Orlando, Fla., considers fighting hunger his main occupation. “Every day around the clock, this is what I do full time,” says Mayer, one of the founders of Faces of Hunger, a volunteer organization that helps feed the hungry of Orlando.

“We saw a need for a program that would urge people to donate, whether it was a can of food or a dollar,” he says. Faces of Hunger aims to provide a social net for needy families — something they can fall back on. “Our social net is a plate of food,” Mayer says.

Volunteers offer counsel to those in need so they can be put on what he calls another “pathway”. “They are coupled with one or two individuals or organizations that work with them in the long term and walk them through the mazes of bureaucracy and paperwork,” explains Mayer.

“We see these really, really threatened individuals. Often they had regular lives. They had family structure. Now they have nothing,” Mayer says. And children are most affected, he adds. The shame and guilt they carry “is huge. They sometimes feel they caused the problem — that if they weren’t around then their parents could make it financially.”

We really are responsible for others. We really should feed everyone.

Mayer’s group works alongside larger organizations committed to fighting hunger like the National School Lunch Program. The NSLP feeds children during the week. Faces of Hunger helps keep them fed through the weekend. On Fridays volunteers fill and distribute backpacks with non-perishable food children can take home.

Commitment to community

Mayer became involved with Faces of Hunger because “I benefit by having community. When I contribute then I am a part of it.”

He has always admired social activism, says Mayer, a retired physician who has two grown daughters, both attorneys, and a son in college. That’s why when Mayer first got involved in Faces of Hunger, he was determined not to become a “slacktivist,” or someone who shows sincere interest in a problem, feels good because he talks about getting involved, and then promptly goes home and forgets about it.

Instead, he’s trying to get even more folks involved. “We really are responsible for others. We should feed everyone,” says the grandfather of two. “When it gets into politics or government, people are seen as disposable and that’s very upsetting. That makes me angry. People are not disposable.”

Mayer believes everyone can contribute to society at some level. He hopes that someday helping those in need will be something everyone does on their own, automatically. “We all learned to recycle. In the early 90s we didn’t but now it’s second nature. Hopefully this will become second nature in our communities, to care for our neighbors.”

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