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Chairman’s Corner – Food Insecurity

Welcome toChairman’s Corner”, where our Board Chair, Paul Taskier, will write about a variety of topics that impact Bread for the City and indeed the community and nation at large. We invite you to Read, Enjoy and Share!

How many times have you gone hungry for more than half a day? Unless you are living in poverty, it’s not very likely.

Most people with adequate incomes have more choices for food than there are meals in the day. We are surrounded by a myriad of options–everything from restaurants to food trucks to fast food and more. Indeed, there is an obesity epidemic from overeating. But there is also unseen hunger.

In Northwest DC, we have many more grocery stores than in the eastern wards. These areas without access to food are known as food deserts, where there are simply no grocery stores providing fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat. Food choice in these areas is grim, limited, expensive, and unhealthy. And if your income is limited, your options are even worse.

In real numbers, 31,460 out of 101,879 children in DC simply don’t get enough to eat.

That statistic, as stunning as it is, is made worse when it is compared with the rest of the country. The District of Columbia has the second worst rate of food hardship in the entire United States. Worse than every other state except, wait for it. . . Mississippi.

What about food stamps you might ask? Now called SNAP, food stamps provide roughly $30 a week to a recipient. That’s something, but it’s not a lot. Consider what you spend on lunch or dinner each day and multiply that by seven. Consider how much fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods cost. That surely comes to much more than $30.

Bread for the City’s CEO, George A. Jones, went on a food stamp challenge in 2012. Here’s what he said about his week-long $30 grocery experiment:

I purchased $29.92 worth of groceries. This got me:

3 cans of tuna
1 small bag of frozen corn
1 small bag of frozen broccoli
1 bag of white bread
1 small bag of navy beans
1 large can of baked beans
1 16 oz. jar of peanut butter
1 bottle of apple juice
1 bag of green apples
1 box of grits
1 box of oatmeal
1 dozen eggs
1 small plastic bottle of mustard
1 raw baking potato
1 raw sweet potato and
4 bananas

Now let me confess, I am a very hearty eater. So it’s in that context that I report that after only 3 and half days, I had eaten two of my three cans of tuna, all of my apples, 6 of my eggs, all four bananas and nearly all of the baked beans. I had also eaten one serving of grits and one of oatmeal.

By Monday, with three meals left to negotiate, I found myself left with a jar of peanut butter, dry grits and oatmeal, frozen corn and the remains of a pot of navy beans that I cooked for Sunday dinner. Somehow, all of my white bread – which I don’t normally even eat – was gone. And I had no meat. In fact, I had no food source at all that might be considered a main course.”

reusable-grocery-bagAt Bread for the City, we deal with this kind of problem every day. SNAP, as important as it is, simply doesn’t begin to assure adequate nutrition. As we have learned from the four decades we have been running our food pantry, our clients typically have no food at all for three or more days of the month.

Last year, 24,064 unique individuals received a three-day supply of groceries in a total of 60,637 visits to our food pantries. A lot of people are not going hungry because of what we do.

And we don’t just give out standard surplus food. Our motto is “Dignity, Respect, Service, Justice.” So our clients go shopping in our food pantries, choosing the starches, vegetables, fruits, and meats that they want.

Even better than that, a few years ago we significantly changed the quality of foods we provide. We eliminated high-salt vegetables and food, and high-sugar canned fruit and foods. We started buying chicken and beef in lieu of canned meat or turkey franks. And we started providing fresh fruit and vegetables.

Last year we gave out more than 86,000 pounds of produce. Over 60% of it was from our gleaning and urban agriculture initiatives.

We are proud that we make a difference every day in keeping people from hunger. The continued support of our many individual donors and grantor foundations, which provide the majority of our funding, is what makes all this work possible.

When I started as a volunteer at Bread, almost 20 years ago, our budget was less than $800,000. We had fewer than 25 full-time staff members. We had only the Northwest Center and served a fraction of the clients we serve today. Now we have two centers, over 100 employees, a $10 million budget and plans to significantly expand our services in Southeast. And, we plan to continue our course of doing more things, and serving more people in better ways, always with Dignity, Respect, Service and Justice.

Paul Taskier cropped

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