Education is key to understanding hunger

One in six people in the U.S. are hungry. In Eau Claire County that number sits at one in five.

According to Feed My People Food Bank, in the 14 counties the food bank serves, there are nearly 70,000 people living in poverty. The 2010 Poverty and Population estimates this is a 76 percent increase from data recorded in the 2000 census.

In Eau Claire County, one in two and a half children are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Four out of the 14 elementary schools in the Eau Claire school district have 50 percent or more of their student body on free or reduced lunch programs.

Hunger is talked about on a national level as a national problem. It may seem too big to take on and impossible to combat. By starting locally and considering the actual problem at hand, we can make a change.

Food insecurity is defined as limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods for a healthy, active lifestyle. It seems hungry is often associated with poverty, but there is a wide range people can fall between when they are food insecure.

The person who needs help might just be a neighbor who is struggling this month because of a medical bill or a classmate who just paid tuition and is living a bit tighter.

Last week, in partnership with UW-Eau Claire, Feed My People Food Bank held a discussion panel post-screening of “A Place At The Table.” The film, from the directors of “Food, Inc.” shows food insecurity through the eyes of three Americans: a single Philadelphia mother, a fifth grader from Colorado and a Mississippi second grader. The film is interwoven with expert analysis, citizen input and activist outreach.

For the past two years Emily Moore, the director of Feed My People Food Bank; Mary Canales, a UW-Eau Claire nursing professor; and Nancy Coffey, the nutrition coordinator for UW-Extension have worked on qualitative research to further understand the hunger problems in the Chippewa Valley.

The first step is education. Not so students feel guilty about bingeing on that extra burger at the cafeteria, but  so students think about only taking as much food as they can eat. Reducing waste. Donating anything extra. Participating in community activities. Understanding what is happening in the community.

On Oct. 10, Feed My People is hosting an open volunteer day from 4 to 7 p.m. where   people can help repack bulk food items and learn about the local food bank, Community Engagement Coordinator Sara Nemec said.

“It’s kind of an event for folks who generally have a 9-to-5 and can’t get out here,” Nemec said.

Any size groups are welcome, Nemec said. Feed My People only asks to be notified in advance of who is planning on attending.

Hunger issues in our country have been ignored for too long. Starting locally, we can fix it together.