One in eight Iowans and one in five Iowa children do not have access to enough food to live an active, healthy lifestyle, a new study on food insecurity by Feeding America shows. River Bend Foodbank of Davenport, which serves 22 counties in the Quad-Cities and surrounding area, shared the report locally last week to raise awareness about a stubborn problem that all of us have the ability to help resolve.
Mike Miller, River Bend Foodbank’s executive director, said he’s encouraged that the communities in eastern Iowa and western Illinois his agency serves have pulled together to reduce hungry people’s unmet need by almost 4 million meals. “This is something to celebrate, as we continue to work together until no one goes hungry.” The foodbank, which in Iowa serves the counties of Scott, Muscatine, Clinton, Jackson and (through St. Stephens Food Bank) Dubuque, works as a nonprofit wholesale distributor for its partner agencies.
Yes, it’s encouraging that the food insecurity rate declined (slightly) from 12.9 percent to 12.3 percent nationwide. Child food insecurity also dropped, from 21.5 percent to 20.1 percent, the Feeding America study reports. But 48 million of our fellow Americans are still food insecure and have to make some tough choices: skip a meal here and there to pay utilities, rent or house mortgage. Some have to buy cheaper, less nutritious food so they can afford necessities like toilet paper, soap and laundry detergent or medicine.
What can we do to help alleviate and, ultimately, stop hunger in our communities? Miller points to three actions: food, time and money. First, we’ve got to commit to never throwing away food that can be eaten. Massive confusion about expiration dates on food packages means some of us throw out food that is still edible, if not fresh. If you’re not certain the food inside a package is edible, donate the item to your local food pantry or to the River Bend Foodbank in Davenport which has the resources to determine whether it’s still safe to eat. Ask your grocers what they’re doing with food that has reached its expiration date. Your question may motivate grocers who are not already donating to food pantries or agencies such as River Bend Foodbank.
Share your time. Consider volunteering at a food pantry in your community or at an agency such as River Bend Foodbank. Volunteers are absolutely essential to the effort to end hunger. Donate food and/or money. Miller noted that every dollar contributed to River Bend Foodbank provides five meals for people in need.
Any goal to eliminate hunger must include collaboration with corporate, civic and social service partners, and with people who are hungry! Many of them have jobs, which don’t pay enough to make ends meet while preventing them from qualifying for federal assistance. Contact your legislators and encourage them to reconsider eligibility requirements for federal nutrition programs and housing subsidies. Ask them to consider raising the minimum wage in Iowa so that people on the lower end of the wage scale can afford to pay for their own food and other basic necessities. Ask legislators to sponsor legislation that encourages and supports family farms and sustainable agriculture. Rural communities struggle mightily to feed the hungry for a host of reasons.
Finally, let’s revisit our own eating habits. Our country throws away some 40 percent of the food we produce, 35 million tons of food a year, Miller says. “That’s enough food to feed everybody.” He is convinced that if all of us stop throwing away food that is still edible, we can end hunger in eastern Iowa and western Illinois. What we throw away has repercussions for the environment as well. Buried food in our landfills produces greenhouse gases that exacerbate our efforts to improve the health of our earth.
Pope Francis observes that one of the most tragic paradoxes in our time is that so many people go hungry in a world where food is wasted, products are destroyed and price speculation is done in the name of the god of profit. That’s an observation worth printing and taping to our garbage cans.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor