As some of you know from previous posts or in conversation, before starting work with Executive Dining I worked with the WIC program in St. Louis County. As a dietitian with WIC, I worked to provide nutrition education to prenatal and postpartum women who qualified for specific supplemental foods designed for their nutritional needs and the needs of their infants and children. Prior to that I worked in a food pantry in the west suburbs of Chicago, IL where I provided food assistance daily through resource gleaning and distribution. While my role with Executive Dining is not direct hunger relief in the same capacity as working with the OPRF Food Pantry and the WIC program were, hunger outreach and relief are as close to my heart as ever. Just maybe not in the “boots to the ground” type of way it once was. In that light, I’d be doing a disservice not to bring recognition to September as Hunger Action Month. My goal is to remind myself of the ever-present concern of hunger all around us and to bring further awareness to the broader community. Awareness of the people who come to work hungry and work alongside you daily. Aware that this %age of people continues to climb daily. Aware so that you might take action.
Hunger and health go hand in hand. The short of it is access to food, access to quality healthcare, access to safe environments in relation to less physical risks, less preventable health complications, and less chronic stress. For more information on how give some time to “In Sickness and in Wealth”, episode one of a series put out by Unnatural Causes. Because dietitians play an important role in healthcare, the St. Louis Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics hosted this academic year’s kickoff meeting at the St. Louis Area Foodbank recognizing Hunger Action month.
In this space we were given a tour of the Foodbank and had the opportunity to learn from representatives who work with the Foodbank, Operation Foodsearch, Food Outreach and Earth Dance Farms. We learned that 1 in 6 people in the bi-state region are in need of food assistance. We learned that 1 in 4 children in the St. Louis region go to bed hungry each night and that hunger affects 25% of our youth. Furthermore, that children who live go hungry are more likely to develop behavioral issues, have lower scores in school, require hospitalization more frequently, and be at greater risk for chronic illness. We were reminded that food insecurity not only affects the those waiting at food pantries, but continues to affect thousands of those who were recently living comfortably in the middle class. Those who have come across unfortunate situations such as loss of a source of income, natural disaster, or other unexpected life change. These are our neighbors, our children’s teachers, and our coworkers.
Lastly we learned about the programming these organizations help support those in need. This includes Cooking Matters (a six week course that provides education on nutrition, meal preparation and food budgeting) and Double Up Food Bucks (a way participants who receive SNAP benefits can double their money spent purchasing local produce). Together, the representatives present at were able to shine light on the work the St. Louis community does to provide food assistance to over 200,000 children, teens and adults monthly.
So now that you are a little more aware, it’s time for an action to-do list.
1. Learn more by watching the Netflix documentary A Place at the Table, reading credible resources on our community and the impact of health inequity, and having the conversation on hunger and food insecurity.
2. Take the SNAP Challenge. Eat on $1.50 per meal for a week. That is $4.50 per day. That is how much people on SNAP are currently receiving.
3. Volunteer at your local food pantry to interact with the faces of hunger or get involved through upcoming events.
4. DONATE! Volunteer time is very important to pantries, but they also need money to purchase healthy food from Food Banks. $1 donated to the foodbank can provide 4 meals in distribution.
I distinctly remember my first week as the registered dietitian with Executive Dining, thinking that I had entered an entirely different world of nutrition from where I had been with WIC, when I encountered one of my former WIC participants in one of our cafes. She recognized me and made it a point to talk about her children with me – whom I had seen for years of growth charts, favorite foods and veggie chats. It was in that moment that it clicked – I will never be removed from the important role that we play in the lives of others and their relationship with food. There are people all around us who struggle with food insecurity. Working in our offices. Eating in our cafes. All around us with the unseen worry of where their next meal will come from. Do you see them? Then do something for them. For us.