Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Combating Hunger during National Nutrition Month and Beyond

As National Nutrition Month comes to a close, it is important to reflect on those who face food insecurity regularly throughout the year. Even in a region as large as Passaic County, people are coping with food insecurity in many different ways. In a 2014 study conducted by the Community Food Bank of New Jersey (CFBNJ), results showed that over 70% of people cope with food insecurity by purchasing cheap and unhealthy foods. Other coping strategies have involved families going to food pantries. Furthermore, CFBNJ reported that in the past year almost 900,000 people have had to rely on food banks to make ends meet. However, many pantries have been running low on food and have had to turn away clients due to increased food insecurity. As food becomes scarce for people living in food desert neighborhoods, families and local organizations are finding innovative ways to alleviate hunger in their communities.
Communities are turning to community gardens, community supported agriculture shares, farmers markets and urban farms to gain access to fresh, healthy foods. Organizations are also working to solve the problem by offering programs that help stretch the dollars of families on federal nutrition programs. In a study conducted by Feeding America in 2013, they estimated that federal benefits like SNAP served over 800,000 people averaging about $133.26 in monthly benefits per family. In the past year 56% of the CFBNJ’s clients received SNAP benefits. To help families access fresh and nutritious food, programs like City Green’s Double Value Coupon (DVCP) takes the face value of FMNP, Senior FMNP and SNAP benefits and doubles their value. This provides families with twice as much fresh produce. To further educate and assist families, organizations across the county are hosting workshops that teach families how to use fresh produce and prepare healthy meals at home. Educating families on the importance of cooking healthy meals fosters important culinary skills that have long lasting impacts on families’ overall health. Developing these skills is one of the most vital ways to combat food insecurity while teaching the importance of nutrition education. When families are taught how to prepare the foods they are being asked to consume, they are more likely to include these in their diet and choose those foods over unhealthy processed foods.
There are many ways you can help combat food insecurity in your local community, such as by volunteering your time to help organizations like City Green who grow fresh and healthy food or at your local food pantries to help prepare and serve food to clients. Visit the CFBNJ site to see their volunteer application here. Other ways you can help include: hosting events for awareness and advocacy, sponsoring organizations, and donating nonperishable foods and funds to pantries near you. To find a food pantry near you click here. To read more about food insecurity in the state and the nation, review CFBNJ’s report Hunger Study and other relevant statistics. Together we can put an end to the 1 in 5 children going hungry in New Jersey.
by Zariel Grullon
Zariel is the AmeriCorps Programs Assistant at City Green. She is currently completing her Nutrition degree at Montclair State University.