Written by Stephen Harris for the United Way of Hunterdon County
Did you know that 12.5% of Americans don’t know when they will eat their next nutritious meal? The percentage is lower in Hunterdon County, 5.6%, but that still means more than 7,000 of our neighbors are food insecure.1
What is Food Insecurity?
Food insecurity is the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. In the United States, this may be caused by poverty or lack of access to food stores. The result is obesity, diabetes and general poor health. Food insecurity among young children is especially poignant as it is associated with poor physical quality of life, which may prevent them from engaging in daily activities at school, lower academic achievement and social interaction with peers. In addition, there is a link between food insecurity and obesity.In other words, a lack of nutritional food may impact a child’s life at the time they are most vulnerable and most in need of a strong start.
Part of the problem arises from a lack of access to nutritional foods. These areas, known as food deserts, disproportionately affect marginalized communities such as seniors and those living in poverty. From a USGA study, “Approximately 2.3 million people (2.2% of all US households) live in low-income, rural areas that are more than 10 miles from a supermarket.”2 To make matters worse, people living in the poorest areas are typically surrounded by fast-food restaurants, which may be more easily accessible but are a poor solution for hunger.
What programs are available for those suffering from Food Insecurity?
Fortunately there are organizations in our community set up to combat the problem of access to good nutritional food, and just as importantly, to educate people on healthy eating habits. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) assists hard working households to be able to put food on the table. However, SNAP benefits continue to be reduced and they alone don’t address the access issue. Households that earn too much to qualify for SNAP can find themselves caught in a hunger gap, especially if they live in more expensive areas such as Hunterdon County.
In Hunterdon County, there are organizations that provide aid for under-nourished people. Food pantries, with support of local markets, provide access to nutritional food. America’s Grow-A-Row donates the food grown in their fields to food pantries, while also going into schools and day camps to provide healthy food education. They provide a service that “gleans” unsold (but still good) fruits and vegetable from local supermarkets and delivers it to various food pantries. NORWESCAP and Fisherman’s Mark provide free lunch to elementary students for the weekend and summer lunches when school is closed.
How can you help?
Help comes in many forms. Consider volunteering in food pantries, creating or supporting local food drives, donating food or money, and contacting your State and Federal legislators. Support making SNAP available for more people by eliminating the hunger gap and other programs that work towards eliminating food deserts.
Many of us do not have to think about where our next meal will come from, or wonder if it will be nutritious. Make a difference for those in need in our community and across the nation. Help today and work to find a long-term solution to hunger in America.
- United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. “Access to Affordable and Nutritious Food: Measuring and Understanding Food Deserts and Their Consequences.” United States Department of Agriculture, 2009