As some of you know, before working with Executive Dining I worked with the WIC program in St. Louis County. There I provided nutrition education to prenatal and postpartum women, infants and children who qualify for supplemental foods. Before that I worked in a food pantry in the west suburbs of Chicago, IL with food accessibility.
My role with Executive Dining is not direct hunger relief in the same capacity as working with the food pantry and WIC program, but hunger outreach and relief are as close to my heart as ever. 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 around us and bring awareness to the broader community. Awareness of those who come to work hungry and work alongside you. Understanding that this percentage of people climbs daily. Recognition so that you might take action.
Hunger and health go hand in hand.
Access to food, access to quality healthcare, access to safe environments correlates with lower physical risks, less preventable health complications, and less chronic stress. If you’d like to dig deeper to learn more, I encourage you to watch “In Sickness and in Wealth”, episode one of a series put out by Unnatural Causes.
To recognize Hunger Action Month, St. Louis Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics hosted this academic year’s kickoff meeting at the St. Louis Area Foodbank .
We toured the Foodbank and heard from representatives who work with the Foodbank, Operation Foodsearch, Food Outreach and Earth Dance Farms. Then they shared statistics about the bi-state region and food assistance. We learned that 1 in 4 children in the St. Louis region go to bed hungry each night. The representatives discussed the correlation between hunger and behavioral issues, lower test scores, more frequent hospitalizations and risk factors for , chronic illness. This impacts those waiting at food pantries, but continues to affect thousands of those who were recently living comfortably. Those who have come across unfortunate situations such as loss of a source of income, natural disaster, or other unexpected life change are also struggling with food insecurity. These are our neighbors, our children’s teachers, and our coworkers.
Lastly, we learned about the programming these organizations have to support food access such as Cooking Matters and Double Up Food Bucks. Together, the representatives shed 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. One way to learn more is to watch the Netflix documentary A Place at the Table. You can read credible resources on our community and the impact of health inequity. Have conversations 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 – the same amount that people on SNAP currently receive.
3. Volunteer at your local food pantry interact with the faces of hunger or get involved through upcoming events.
4. DONATE! 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. Then 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 favorite foods and veggie chats. It was in that moment that it clicked – I will never be removed from the important role that we each can play in the lives of others and their food relationships. 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.