Oh, right, it’s Lent! (Disclaimer: I know not everyone adheres to Christianity; I know not everyone observes Lent; and while this post will be somewhat about Lent as a season, I hope those who don’t observe it will stick with me, because there’s a point here for all of us.)

Ack.  I forgot.  I mean, I didn’t forget, but I sort of didn’t have it on my radar fully, if you know what I mean.  It’s not so much of a big deal, really, because the church we belong to is a pretty progressive and easygoing Protestant congregation, so there’s no dietary restriction or anything of that nature to be concerned about.  We don’t have to give up meat for 40 days, or eat only fish on Fridays, or even come up with a plan to do a hint of self-deprivation by voluntarily giving up some indulgence of ours.  It’s just not something we do.

BUT.  We, as people (and our church, as a collective), do tend to try to think about Lent in a semi-productive way; after all, here are 40 days, set aside in the Christian calendar for reflection and preparation as we anticipate what is (at least in theological terms) the most important holiday of the religious year.  While we may not be into the austerity thing, we’re definitely into the idea of making something interesting and meaningful out of these 40 days between Shrove Tuesday and Easter Sunday.  And for J. and me, that usually means trying to figure out a way to either 1) improve our own well-being substantially; or 2) improve somebody else’s well-being substantially.  Sort of like taking the concept of a New Year’s Resolution, but moving it to a better time of year and setting a time limit on it.

This is a year when Option #2 seems like the better choice for us.  Yes, there are ways in which we could potentially practice greater discipline to make something in our own lives better; but most of those issues would take much longer than 40 days to really tackle, and generally speaking, we’re in a good place right now as a family.  And when we have the opportunity to think about giving to others, I think it’s our responsibility to take that opportunity seriously.  So I’ve been pondering, as I’ve come to the realization that Lent is actually HERE already, how to make the most of this season.

My requirements this year are simple: I want to think of a cause that’s meaningful to me, and I want to find a way to do something EVERY SINGLE DAY that will impact that cause.  Sometimes it’s too easy to let these days go by without any reflection at all; what I’m looking for is something that will force me to remember, even just for a minute or two every day, what season it is and what kind of value I’m attempting to add to the world.  Of course, it can’t be TOO hard or I’ll be setting myself up for failure.  Also, it’d be great if it were the kind of thing I could share with others.  Like, say, all of you.

Here’s what I’ve decided: As far as things near and dear to me go, the idea of helping other people — especially kids — get healthy food on their tables is clearly a top-tier issue.  Right now, there are a couple of sites I’m aware of that are allowing people to simply, and painlessly, share their own meals online; by uploading a photo or writing a description of a breakfast or dinner, you can ensure that a donation will be made in the effort to feed a hungry child or hungry family.  So for the next 40 days, I plan to log on to those sites each day and share the breakfasts and dinners my family eats, knowing that each time I do so, another family will benefit.

It’s so simple.  It requires very little of me, other than remembering to take photographs and get online.  And that’s why I’ve chosen it; because not only will it be something I can realistically do, with my schedule (while still making a substantial difference), but it seems like something YOU all can do as well.

The first site is one I found through — who else? — blogger Bettina of The Lunch Tray, who wrote a post about something called ShareUrMeal.  It’s a Philadelphia-based initiative, which at first gave me pause; I like to help those in my own backyard if possible, and if not, then I usually gravitate towards national or international organizations that will share the wealth.  But then I thought: this is a great idea.  And if this one great idea does well in Philadelphia, then maybe it’ll spread to other cities as well.  Even if it doesn’t, I haven’t lost anything by helping people in Philly — there are hungry families everywhere, and if I care about them (which I do), then I can’t be choosy about their zip codes.

The other site is Share Your Breakfast, an initiative that’s being sponsored by Kellogg’s.  I’ll say right now that I have absolutely no particular brand bias; I don’t generally buy Kellogg’s products, and the fact that their name is on this has nothing to do with my interest in it.  (In fact, I’m probably slightly more interested in it because they’re partnering with a non-profit, Action for Healthy Kids.)  At any rate, no matter whose money is behind the idea, it’s a good one: every time somebody shares a photo or description of their breakfast on the site, Kellogg’s will donate money to school breakfast programs.  You share a breakfast; they share a breakfast.  Pretty simple concept. 

These things are not rocket science.  They’re not challenging.  What they are, though, is potentially very effective ways of involving the entire community — nationally — in solving some concrete issues.  Along the way, I can hope that people who upload their breakfasts and dinners to these sites will also (maybe?) take a quick glance at their own contributions and spend a second thinking about whether or not what was on their plates was the very best they could do for their families; but even if they don’t, they’ll be doing the best thing for somebody else’s family.  No matter what time of year it is, no matter what your ideology might be, that’s something I think we can all agree is worth a few minutes a day.