With many food banks across the country seeing rising demand for their services, a new initiative has been launched to help put more healthy meals on the table for hungry families.
"It sounds strange to some of us, I'm sure, but one in eight Americans is struggling with hunger," says Ted Allen, who hosts a program on the Food TV network.
"With the economy the way it is, the demand on our nation's food banks is up 30 percent over last year," he says. "At the same time, a lot of the organizations that were funding those food banks are cutting their budgets as well."
So Allen has become the spokesman for a creative online initiative to raise money for food banks. It involves bread - and art.
"The Bread Art Project is an online art gallery in which you can upload pictures of your kids, your pets, anything you like, and project those pictures onto a piece of toast, which is then hung on the wall of the online art gallery," Allen explains.
There are now thousands of images on toast hanging in the virtual gallery at BreadArtProject.com.
"We've actually had works submitted by folks who have their art displayed in the Smithsonian, which is cool," says Kristin Patterson, spokeswoman for the Grain Foods Foundation, which sponosrs the project. "We've had some really beautiful animation, almost like short films."
"The quality is very impressive," she says. "We have more than 1,000 folks following us on Twitter. Not only are they from all parts of the country, but we are getting quite a number of people from all parts of the globe. We had art teachers contact us that are very excited about this."
Anyone can create a work of bread art in the gallery's workshop. Choose your bread - a canvas of white, wheat or oatmeal, how dark you want it toasted, and upload a picture or use the artist tools to draw from scratch.
In addition to hanging your design in the gallery, Patterson says you can also choose the works of bread art you like most.
"There is a rating tool on the site," she says. "Once we've completed [the project], we'd love to do something with the top-rated artwork. It hasn't taken a form of a contest per se, but we hope we do something with our top-rated artworks at the end of this. We encourage folks to go on and vote for their favorites."
For each slice of bread art created, the Grain Foods Foundation will donate $1 to Feeding America, the nation's largest hunger-relief organization.
"The hope is the total will be 100,000 [dollars] to Feeding America," she says. "We launched a little more than two weeks ago, and so far we have more than 13,000 uploads, which equates to 52,000 bags of groceries, 91,000 meals and 130,000 pounds of food."
Bread Art Project spokesman Ted Allen says it's exciting to see that a lot of children have gotten involved in the campaign.
"It's a great lesson for kids to care about others and also to do it through a fun way of self expression," he says. "I think that sends a great message. I think also children might be accustomed to seeing images on TV of hungry people in other countries. And it's important for them to understand also that right in our own communities, there are people who are struggling as well."
Along with the art, the site includes facts about hunger and healthy recipes. It also has many tips on how people can save money without sacrificing the nutritional value of their meals.
The Bread Art Project continues through the end of May. The Grain Foods Foundation and Feeding America hope more people will join the campaign and help fight hunger with their creativity.