Tag Archives: hunger

People Gotta Eat

by Melanie and Jim


One of my favorite quotations is from Mother Teresa. She said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, just feed one.” In other words, we all have the capacity to make someone’s life better, even if we can’t change the world.

Sometimes our impact is through a kind word or gesture. Other times we literally feed someone. Today Jim and I had the opportunity to do something more rare. We fed a hundred.

Several times a year the Johnson County (Iowa) Democrats and OFA (Organizing for Action) prepare and serve for the Free Lunch Program. The program provides a free hot meal six days a week to anyone who shows up. On average, more than 130 meals are served a day. There is no obligation, no expectation, and no religious or other preaching. From the website:

Respecting the dignity of the guests has been the cornerstone of its service. “An open door, a full plate, no questions asked.” This guiding principle of unconditional respect and hospitality has been as integral to the program as the hot, nourishing meals.

We have helped with this service for a couple of years. Our roles have varied from meal prep, to serving, to clean-up. It takes more than a dozen people to pull this off. Today we had a crew of seven to fix the meal, and we helped with the prep. I stirred up two big pans of cornbread, helped with the dessert, and readied three large bowls of greens for salad. Jim and I also got the dining room ready, moving chairs from tabletop to floor, and wiped tables off.

The menu today was a popular one we’ve used before: baked chicken thighs with barbecue sauce, baked beans, cornbread, two kinds of salad, hard-boiled eggs, and peach crisp. It was good to use a familiar menu, because we were in an unfamiliar location.


It was fun to see the faces of some other volunteers as they came into the new facility. The former location was in the basement of the Wesley Center near downtown. It was the home of the Free Lunch Program for 30 years. The kitchen was small and very crowded. One large center island served for food prep and storage of dishes, cups, silverware, hot pads, etc., in the compartments below it. The serving room was full each day. Storage and freezer space was in three different locations. Equipment was on its last legs.

The new location has ample room in the kitchen and in the dining area. There is new and donated equipment to make the work easier. There is a lot of shiny stainless steel. Front doors unlock automatically at 11:30 and re-lock at 1:30. Folks come in and head for the bathrooms and then some hot coffee. Serving starts at noon. Any food leftovers are offered for take-home.

It is a wonderful change from the cramped and dated space before. Mary, the person who has been in charge for the entire time of the program, is beaming with happiness about the new facility. She feels she has accomplished her primary goals and announced her retirement from the position last September as work progressed on the new location. As of today, no one has been hired to fill her post. They had better get moving. Mary deserves a break from her years of hard work.

This post may be an unusual addition to the list, but we are linking up with the Novice Gardener’s Fiesta Friday. We hope you all have a great weekend, and next time you fill your belly with delicious food, please remember Mother Teresa’s exhortation. Because people gotta eat.


Hunger News Review 1/28/14

It’s been a while since I published any hunger news links. People are still hungry, and we still haven’t figured out how to fix that. In a sense, there is no news there.

But importantly, we’ve been waiting for Congress to pass a new Farm Bill. Both the Senate and House had passed their own versions, but they were far enough apart in some key issues to doubt the ability to reconcile the two versions. This morning comes the announcement of bipartisan agreement to screw hungry people more than Democrats want and less than Republicans want. I guess that’s as good as agreements get these days.

The most recent version of the Farm Bill was passed in 2008, and it was scheduled to be renewed in 2012. Congress couldn’t come to agreement then, except to extend the existing provisions until September 30, 2013.

In case you’re not aware of the Farm Bill’s scope, here are a few of the areas it covers:

  • Commodities regulation (commodities crops and dairy, and commodities futures)
  • Agricultural trade and international food aid
  • Nutrition assistance programs including SNAP (food stamps)
  • Agricultural loans and crop insurance
  • Research
  • Conservation
  • Forestry service
  • Livestock and poultry production

These programs are all administered by the US Department of Agriculture, or USDA. The largest portion of the budget is nutrition support. This covers programs including SNAP (food stamps), school and summer lunches, WIC (Women, Infants, and Children supplemental foods), and others.

Nutrition supports directly benefit the individuals who get to eat, of course. They also benefit retailers, wholesalers, and farm producers. SNAP, the largest part of the largest part, also has direct flow-through as broad economic support. These programs do not hurt the economy; they help individuals, businesses, and the economy broadly.

Now with that background, the news:
According to the New York Times, the negotiated bill

will eliminate or consolidate dozens of agriculture subsidy programs, expand government-subsidized crop insurance and cut about $8 billion from the food stamp program over the next decade.

The House is expected to vote on the measure on Wednesday. It is unclear when the Senate will take up the legislation. Many Senate Democrats are likely to be unhappy with the food stamps measure, which cuts roughly twice as much as senators approved in May.

Yet the food stamp cuts may not be large enough to appease House conservatives, who in June helped defeat a bill backed by Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio that would have cut $20 billion from the program. The House eventually passed a bill covering only nutrition programs that would have sliced nearly $40 billion from food stamps.

Note that both the House and Senate need to approve the legislation, which at this point cannot be amended. Though it is expected that the bill will pass, it’s possible House Republicans will reject it. In that case, it would be back to the drawing board.

Full details of the bill have not been released. However it appears that the majority of cuts to SNAP come from closing loopholes in the way some states calculate benefits based on household utilities costs. Most beneficiaries in those states will still receive benefits but may at a reduced level.

This is far from ideal for those concerned about hunger in America. We shall see the impact if the bill is enacted. More news to come…

Hunger News Review 12/09/13

Hunger is a primary concern of mine. Adequate nutrition has positive impacts on every part of our lives, individually and collectively. To put it differently, if you eat the right amount and make healthy choices, your good nutrition affects both you and me. The reverse is true, as well.

I’ve written a lot on hunger issues and will continue to. With this post, I’m starting a new, related series. This post debuts a hunger news digest, no pun intended. As I see reports about hunger, food insecurity, the costs of poor nutrition, the political jousting around food stamps (SNAP), I will collect them here. Showing quick summaries with links will help you find your way around the news, and hopefully will highlight the prevalence of a sometimes hidden issue.

With no further ado, here’s the hunger news.

What Separates A Healthy And Unhealthy Diet? Just $1.50 Per Day
Opinions have differed about whether eating a healthy diet is more or less expensive than an unhealthy diet. A Harvard cardiologist and epidemiologist undertook a meta-analysis of existing studies to resolve the question.

So he and his colleagues decided to pore over 27 studies from 10 different developed countries that looked at the retail prices of food grouped by healthfulness. Across these countries, it turns out, the cost difference between eating a healthful and unhealthful diet was pretty much the same: about $1.50 per day. And that price gap held true when they focused their research just on U.S. food prices, the researchers found in their of these studies.

The researchers evaluated the cost of food by types of eating pattern — for example, a diet heavy on vegetables, nuts and fruits, like the Mediterranean diet, versus one rich in processed foods and meat. They also looked at price differences within specific food categories, such as grains, proteins, fats and dairy. The biggest price differences arose when it came to proteins/meats: Healthier, leaner cuts, they found, were on average about 29 cents more per serving.

The cost difference is especially noteworthy when considering the reductions to food stamp benefits as of November 1.

Thanksgiving: Food stamp cuts leave pantries struggling to meet rising need
Food stamp cuts leave families with fewer options. One option is food banks and food pantries, where they are available. But federal funding has been cut for them, too.

On Nov. 1, the 47 million people who rely on food stamps — also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — saw a decrease in benefits when Congress allowed a 2009 program funding boost to expire. As a result, a family of four will receive $36 less in food stamps in November and each month thereafter, according to the USDA.

Barkley said that NY Common Food Pantry has also had to adjust to a lack of government funding this year. In 2012, the U.S. government purchased $560 million worth of food for charities, but in 2013 the funding was slashed to $495 million. Feeding America’s director of tax and commodity policy, Carrie Calvert, said food banks will have to find a way to compensate for the 25 percent decrease in federal food deliveries.

From a political standpoint, Republicans are pushing hard to reduce food stamp benefits farther. Democrats generally are resisting that push. The disagreement is part of what has delayed the enactment of a new Farm Bill. But who actually uses food stamps?

Interactive: Republicans More Likely to Have Constituents Who Use Food Stamps
The information and graphics in this article show heavier dependence in congressional districts represented by Republicans. Please click the link to see the map of food stamp usage.

When the House voted in September to cut $40 billion from the federal food-stamp program over 10 years, all but 15 Republicans supported the measure while not a single Democrat did so.

But according to a TIME analysis of county-by-county food-stamp-enrollment data compiled by the nonprofit Feeding America, it appears that House Republicans represent more districts with high levels of participation in the program than House Democrats. Of the 350 congressional districts in which TIME was able to estimate the percentage of people enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), 76 had levels of 20% or higher. Of those, 43 are held by Republicans while 33 are controlled by Democrats.

Links to other hunger news are welcome. Thanks for reading.

Deer Hunters Support Food Agencies

Under the light of a nearly full moon, the ten-point buck nibbled at the bushes, ten feet from my front window. The next day, a young deer grazed, unconcerned, close to the house in my back yard. I live in town, in a neighborhood with young families. It’s more common to see deer in the yards this time of year than to see kids.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates the state deer population after the hunting season at about 200,000 animals. Their tremendous reproduction rate, along with some migration from other states, has brought the herd back from a few hundred animals in 1936.

Unchecked, Iowa’s deer herd could grow at a rate of 20% to 40% each year. At this rate, deer numbers would double in as few as 3 years. With Iowa’s abundant agricultural crops providing food, densities could potentially reach 100 or more deer per square mile before natural regulatory mechanisms would begin to affect deer health and slow the rate of growth. Deer numbers this high would cause economic hardship to Iowa’s landowners as well as alter the natural vegetative community. Maintaining a deer population in balance with the wants and needs of the people in the state is a difficult task, but hunting is the only viable management option to achieve this goal. [Emphasis added.]

HUSH, or Help Us Stop Hunger, is a state-sponsored program in Iowa.

HUSH is a cooperative effort among deer hunters, the Food Bank of Iowa, meat lockers and the Iowa DNR. The two main goals of HUSH include:

(1) reducing the deer population while

(2) providing high-quality red meat to the needy in Iowa.

In the 2012-13 deer hunting season, more than 5,200 deer were donated. With partner meat lockers and the Food Bank of Iowa, the state distributed enough venison to generate 880,000 meals.

Iowa’s shotgun deer-hunting season begins December 7, for the general population. Hunters can buy extra permits for antler-less deer. Once the deer has been field-dressed and delivered to a cooperating meat locker, the locker will process the meat.

The state pays the lockers $75 per deer. If an “average” deer yields 60 to 100 pounds of usable meat, the state pays approximately $1 per pound.

Food Bank of Iowa distributes the meat through partner agencies in 55 of the 99 counties in Iowa. These partner agencies include:

– Food pantries
– Soup kitchens
– Homeless shelters
– Shelters for victims of domestic violence
– Nonprofit day care centers
– Residential care centers
– Child and senior programs

With a retail price for beef well above $3.50 a pound, and even bone-in chicken legs at $1.50 a pound, venison is an inexpensive alternative.

Agencies that prepare meals, as well as individuals, can find venison recipes that may be useful. The Ohio DNR offers dozens of recipes at this link.

In Iowa, deer is a plentiful resource for meat. The cooperation of many parties makes it possible to distribute that meat to where it’s needed. In addition, the harvest of deer helps control damage to crops and landscaping alike.

Note: this post is not intended to promote or glorify hunting, guns, or red meat. It is just information about one of the ways more food becomes available to more people. If you want to argue about hunting, guns, or red meat, please do it elsewhere. For over 50 million people in America, hunger is a reality. Food insecurity affects 1 in 6 of the U.S. population, including more than 1 in 5 children.

Stamp Out Hunger

by Melanie in IA

With one in six Americans living at risk of hunger, our food banks are stretched thin and providing food assistance to nearly six million people each week. Food donations are crucial to our goal of a hunger-free America. ~ Bob Aiken, President and CEO of Feeding America.

The statistics are staggering. From Feeding America, some facts on food insecurity and very low food security:

•  In 2011, 50.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 33.5 million adults and 16.7 million children.
•  In 2011, 14.9 percent of households (17.9 million households) were food insecure.
•  In 2011, 5.7 percent of households (6.8 million households) experienced very low food security.
•  In 2011, households with children reported food insecurity at a significantly higher rate than those without children, 20.6 percent compared to 12.2percent.
•  In 2011, households that had higher rates of food insecurity than the national average included households with children (20.6 percent), especially households with children headed by single women (36.8 percent) or single men (24.9 percent), Black non-Hispanic households (25.1 percent) and Hispanic households (26.2 percent).
•  In 2011, 8.8 percent of seniors living alone (1 million households) were food insecure.
•  Food insecurity exists in every county in America, ranging from a low of 5 percent in Steele County, ND to a high of 37 percent in Holmes County, MS.v

In addition,

•  In 2011, 5.1 percent of all U.S. households (6.1 million households) accessed emergency food from a food pantry one or more times. vii
•  In 2011, 57.2 percent of food-insecure households participated in at least one of the three major Federal food assistance programs -Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamp Program), The National School Lunch Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. viii
•  Feeding America provides emergency food assistance to an estimated 37 million low-income people annually, a 46 percent increase from 25 million since Hunger in America 2006. ix
•  Among members of Feeding America, 74 percent of pantries, 65 percent of kitchens, and 54 percent of shelters reported that there had been an increase since 2006 in the number of clients who come to their emergency food program sites.x

References are provided at the link; bolding emphasis mine.

You can help. To find out how, click here.

They are hungry every day

by Melanie in IA

This morning I helped fix food to serve about 150 people for lunch. Here is the menu:

Roasted chicken thighs
Baked beans
Lettuce salad with fresh tomatoes, carrots, celery
Peas and cheese salad
Cottage cheese
Peach crisp
Buttered rolls, white or wheat

Six days a week, volunteers prepare, serve, and clean up lunch for 100 or more people. The counts have run high recently, with well over 100 stopping in for this free meal.

For many of the customers, this is the only meal they get for the day. Many of them fill their plates, and once the line is opened for “seconds,” they come through again.

The food quality is high, the service is friendly, and the price is… astoundingly high. Though patrons do not pay a penny for their meals, the circumstances that lead them to the free lunch program take a tremendous toll.

Long-term unemployment and underemployment, medical expenses, mental health problems, education expenses, and other issues all lead community members to the free lunch line. They are veterans, they are students, they are retirees, they are working poor. They are hungry, and people gotta eat.

How much of a problem is hunger in America? In 2011 low food security impacted almost one in six Americans. According to the US Department of Agriculture,

An estimated 85.1 percent of American households were food secure throughout the entire year in 2011, meaning that they had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. The remaining households (14.9 percent) were food insecure at least some time during the year, including 5.7 percent with very low food security—meaning that the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food.  emphasis added

[The USDA uses the term “food insecurity” instead of “hunger” to improve the measurability and objectiveness of the measure. Regardless of term, too many people in the U.S. have trouble feeding themselves and/or someone in their household, due to lack of money or other resources.]

So How Can You Help?

Nationally there are a lot of organizations working to end hunger, at least for today. Many of them may work in your community. Soup kitchens, food pantries, Meals on Wheels, and food rescue organizations all provide opportunities for volunteers year round!

Soup kitchens/free food lines. These groups need help every day they serve. In my community, a hearty lunch is served six days a week. Clients can come back for seconds, and if there are leftovers, they can carry them out, as well.

What kind of help is needed? Check with your local group. On a daily basis food must be prepped and served; dishes and work space must be cleaned. If you want client-facing duty, you probably can do that. If you prefer prep or clean-up, there’s plenty to do there, too!

Besides daily duty, your group may need organizational help, writing grant proposals, scheduling volunteers, or other administrative services.

Food pantries/food banks. Here again, hundreds of volunteer hours are needed to make these work. The food pantries in our area all belong to a larger network. Though they have common sources of food, they staff independently with volunteers. Again, client-facing people are needed as well as those to write grant proposals, pick up and deliver food, clean the facility, etc.

My nearest food pantry provides food as well as some children’s clothing. When I volunteered yesterday (first time but not my last!) I sorted clothing to transition from fall/winter to spring/summer items.

Meal on Wheels. As of a year ago, my local Meals on Wheels group had almost 200 clients to whom they delivered food regularly. Imagine how many volunteers are needed to prepare, pick up, and deliver these meals. Volunteers often develop personal relationships with clients, and they can be on the front lines for noticing when circumstances for someone have deteriorated.

Find out how you can help from the Meals on Wheels volunteer webpage.

Food rescue organizations.

Food rescue, also called food recovery, is the practice of safely retrieving edible food that would otherwise go to waste, and distributing it to those in need.The recovered food is edible, but often not saleable. Products that are at or past their “sell by” dates or are imperfect in any way – a bruised apple or day-old bread – are donated by grocery stores, food vendors, restaurants, and farmers markets. Other times, the food is unblemished, but restaurants may have made or ordered too much, or may have edible pieces of food (such as scraps of fish or meat) that are byproducts of process of preparing foods to cook and serve. In addition, food manufacturers may donate product that marginally fails quality control or that has become short-dated.

In my community, a group called Table to Table moves edible food from restaurants, coffee shops, groceries, drug stores, and institutional kitchens to recipient agencies. Those agencies are the same food pantries, free lunch lines, and Meals on Wheels-type organizations mentioned above. This is an essential link in the chain that helps feed the hungry.

Find Out More

To find out more about hunger in America and how you can help, visit feedingamerica.org.