By Gretel Schueller, "Hungry for Change,"November/December 2013
Hunger in this country is much more prevalent than people think,” says Mariana Chilton, director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University’s School of Public Health. About 50 million people in the United States don’t always know where their next meal is coming from, including 8.3 million children. During this season of food-filled holidays, it’s a fitting time to consider those less fortunate.
“There’s not a single congressional district in this country that doesn’t have food insecurity,” Chilton states. More accurate than hungry, “food insecurity” describes the lack of access to enough food for a healthy life, which, over time, can take a toll, especially on children. “We see an impact on growth, on emotional and cognitive development, increased infections, more hospitalizations, increased anemia.” The issue can seem daunting, but we can all help.
Connecting Real People With Real Food
In the Atlanta suburbs, some 230 refugee families, from Burma to Bhutan to Burundi, are part of the Global Growers Network, a nonprofit that helps people who have been forced to flee their countries. On farms and community gardens, members grow crops to feed their families—almost all are food-insecure and live below the poverty line. More than 1,100 people are fed through the project. Many support themselves by selling at farmers’ markets. “Working with people from over 13 countries, we share the best of each culture,” says founder Susan Pavlin.
For more than 20 years, The Food Trust has been making nutritious food available to people in low-income areas across the country, places typically lacking access to fresh produce. Studies show that people who live farther away from supermarkets have greater rates of diabetes and other diet-related health issues. Conversely, people who live closer to them eat more produce. The organization increases fresh-food access by getting farmers’ markets into poor neighborhoods, leading nutrition classes and working with 650 corner stores to increase healthy offerings.
Food banks don’t typically offer fresh fruits and vegetables. The volunteers of Rotary First Harvest (RFH) glean unharvested crops from farms and deliver them to food banks across Washington State. In 2012, RFH distributed 9 million pounds of produce. “It’s important because vulnerable populations need access to healthy food, particularly produce,” says Benjamin Rasmus, program director.
When the dining halls at the University of Maryland, College Park, close each day, students arrive to collect food that would otherwise be thrown out and take it to local food banks. Founded in 2011 by three students, the Food Recovery Network has since grown to more than 12 campus chapters across the country. It turns out that colleges produce—and waste—a lot of food. The organization distributed more than 166,000 pounds of food in its first two years.