Hunger Awareness Day 2007

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For the past 6 years, the
first Tuesday in June has
marked the observance of
Hunger Awareness Day—a
nationwide initiative to
inform the general public
about hunger issues affecting
far too many of our friends and neighbors.
While we’re all familiar with the
hunger and malnutrition plaguing Third
World nations, many people are surprised to
discover that hunger and malnutrition—
“food insecurity” in current parlance—exist
in the United States. 35 million people in the
US fit the definition of “food insecure”—
defined by the USDA as “limited or uncertain
availability of nutritionally adequate and
safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to
acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable
ways” – with an increasing number of
people threatening to fall between the cracks
as the cost of living increases without a corresponding
rise in wages or opportunity. It’s
important to remember that nearly half the
clients the Foodbank serves through its 180
agencies and programs are employed; they’re
working, but are still unable to acquire
enough food for their households while
dealing with other expenses. Other clients
are between jobs or paychecks. Still others
are elders living on fixed incomes.
The Eastern Illinois Foodbank exists to
alleviate hunger through a network of food
pantries and other agencies in a 14-county
area of eastern Illinois. On June 4, 2007—
the eve of this year’s Hunger Awareness
Day—the Foodbank presented “Working
For Food: Food Insecurity in Eastern Illinois”,
a symposium designed to frame
hunger awareness through several different
food-system lenses. Speakers included
Andrea Rundell, the Foodbank’s Director of
External and Agency Relations; Teola Trowbridge,
former Logistics Manager for Kraft
Foods; Martha Trenkamp, Registered Dietitian
with Carle Clinic; Dennis Riggs, Executive
Director of Broadlands Food Pantry (he’s
also a farmer); Robin Orr, Department of
Food Science and Human Nutrition, University
of Illinois; Cheryl O’Leary, Principal of
Garden Hills Elementary School; and
Nathan Montgomery, Executive Director of
Salt & Light in Champaign. The discussion
was moderated by Jim Hires, Executive
Director of the Eastern Illinois Foodbank.
Each speaker touched on food insecurity
as delineated by their own professional
experience—Ms. O’Leary’s school, for
example, was the pilot school in 2006-2007
for the Foodbank’s BackPack program,
designed to send kid-friendly food home
with kids in need on Fridays so they’re able
to supplement what they eat over the weekend
and return to school fed and ready to
learn. Ms. Trowbridge touched on the reality
of the efficiencies of food manufacturing
(more efficiency means less food on the
donated market). Mr. Riggs spoke of his
pantry’s attempt to address rural poverty,
while Mr. Montgomery spoke of Salt &
Light’s attempts to help the urban poor. Ms.
Orr explained the relationship of Farm Bill
legislation to the funding and administration
of the Food Stamp Program (a large
portion of the Farm Bill deals specifically
with the food stamp program and other
food assistance and nutrition programs),
while Ms. Trenkamp spoke about the
increase in low-income patients coming to
her practice with maladies directly related to
poor nutrition, such as obesity, high blood
pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.
Members of the audience seemed surprised,
at times, by the scope of the problem—
the number of people in eastern Illinois,
for example, at risk of food insecurity
(meaning they’re either already there or are
flirting with being there) is 136,000. Families
who technically earn a gross income
just above the Federal poverty line –
$20,650/year for a household of four—
have $1 per person per day for food after
basic expenses such as housing, utilities,
childcare and transportation are subtracted.
Addressing hunger in our community—
any community – requires two approaches
by citizens: the legislative, long-term, systemic
approach, and the logistic, boots-onthe-
ground, immediate approach. All members
of our community can use these
approaches—the former by urging state
and national legislators to work together to
raise the minimum wage for workers, to
provide affordable-to-all health care for all
citizens, and to legislate, via the Farm Bill,
for an increase in food stamp benefits for clients. The latter approach can be addressed by helping
the Foodbank and its agencies feed people NOW through
donations of money, food and time. This fight is happening
on two fronts, and we must be able to feed people—and
better our communities—while trying to effect change.
Changing an existing paradigm within a large system
takes time, but working together to provide access to
nutritious and healthy emergency food to fellow citizens
when they need it is something that is crucial and can
happen immediately—and happens every day here in
Eastern Illinois.
Eastern Illinois Foodbank— or call
Illinois Food Bank Asssociation—www.illinoisfoodbanks.
Great documents about the 2007 Farm Bill—www.agobservatory.
World Hunger Year—
Community Food Security Coalition:

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