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When you share a delicious meal with your family this holiday season, will you be grateful to dad for smoking the turkey? Will you thank your mom for making your favorite dish? Will you be one of the many kids in Arizona who is happy to have enough food this mealtime?
Last year, an estimated 1 in 8 people in the United States were food INSECURE, including more than 12 million children. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. That means folks may miss entire meals or end up eating food that is not very nutritious.
In Arizona, the percentage of people who are food insecure are much higher, according to St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance. Almost 1 in 5 adults experience food insecurity, and it’s even worse for kids!
“About 25 percent of children in Arizona are food insecure…(or) not sure where their next meal will come from,” says Jerry Brown, director of public relations for St. Mary’s Food Bank.
Brown explains that kids in bigger cities tend to do better, but in rural areas, especially on reservations, many more children have challenges getting enough healthy food. Nearly half of all kids in Apache and Navajo counties are food insecure, says Brown.
HELPING THE COMMUNITY
St. Mary’s Food Bank distributes food to homeless shelters, food pantries and other non-profit agencies in 13 counties across central and northern Arizona, in addition to serving the Phoenix area. The organization, with the help of the community, made it possible for thousands of families to have good reason to celebrate this past Thanksgiving.
“We made sure 11,600 families got turkeys for Thanksgiving,” says Brown, who adds, “about 9,000 turkeys were donated.” Some of those donations came from families and kids!
“We had a 9-year-old girl who decided to collect. By the time she was done, she collected over 300 turkeys,” says Brown.
Maddy Neckels heard about the need for turkeys, and created a flyer to do her own turkey drive. Maddy had a goal to collect 100 turkey for St. Mary’s Food Bank. But when word got out, U.S. Foods donated 93 turkeys to Maddy’s cause. Others donated in her name, so she far exceeded her original goal.
Her proud father, Jarrod Neckels, told a local TV station that idea was all Maddy’s. “Sometimes you may underestimate what (kids) can think of on their own,” he says.
Maddy’s mom read a story online about the number of turkeys St. Mary’s needed, and Maddy took the Butterball and ran with it!
Brown notes that this is just one example of things kids can do to help others in their community. “They can hold a food drive at school, or even in their neighborhood,” he says.
Everyone can step up to help, even those who sometimes need themselves, Brown says. “In the Washington School District, over 90 percent of kids qualify for the free or reduced lunch program, but they did a food drive, (they were) willing to help, as well,” says Brown. One high school raised $20,000 for the food bank, he reports.
HUNGER FUELS OTHER ILLS
According to the USDA, households with children have higher rates of food insecurity than households without children. When kids don’t eat properly and don’t have access to healthy food, it can cause problems physically. Studies show that food insecurity in children leads to ailments such as anemia, diabetes and obesity. Food insecurity can affect kids academically and socially, too.
“There are studies of students that show that kids who don’t eat properly, don’t eat breakfast or don’t have dinner the night before, (have trouble concentrating) and tend to act up in school, as well,” notes Brown. “Part of a success story of a student…is doing what they need to do in school, not worrying about their stomach growling.”
WHAT TO DONATE
If you or your family is able to donate money to your local food bank, it is a wonderful, generous gift to give this time of year. If you can donate food, there are certain items that are always appreciated. Brown recommends food donations of peanut butter, canned fruits and vegetables, and canned meals like ravioli, chili and stews. Canned meal donations can help ensure that a family has a meal when they otherwise might not. So start a food drive, drop off a food donation, or talk to your family about ways that you can help to make mealtime more secure for another Arizona family!
FOOD BANKS GIVE FRESH FOOD, TOO!
While the canned fruits and vegetables that you donate are essential and can last months on a shelf, food banks are finding innovative ways to provide fresh fruits and vegetables so people can have healthier, more sustainable food.
On Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons, the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona at 3003 S. Country Club Rd. holds farmers markets where people can buy fresh, locally grown produce with their Arizona SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) cards. And to encourage them to get enough just-picked produce, the food bank doubles each person’s buying power up to $20.
Another program it has INITIATED takes excess produce of Mexican farmers, large amounts of things like fresh tomatoes, and trucks it into Arizona. Instead of ending up being dumped in a landfill, this good, nutritious fresh food is distributed to people who need it and to other food banks so it can go further!
Once you get away from Arizona cities, even finding places to buy food can be a challenge. “In the rural areas, we have food deserts here—grocery stores are not always easy to find,” explains Norma Cable, public relations and marketing person for the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona (CFB).
Arizona has the fifth-worst childhood hunger rate in the nation and it’s worse in more rural areas, Cable shares. But the problem of food insecurity isn’t solved just with emergency food boxes—it’s much more complicated. “Poverty brings with it so many challenges. We have lack of economic opportunity, social isolation, diet-related disease. And we know that all of these are challenges that come when we talk about hunger,” she explains. So CFB workers and volunteers are striving to “serve people in a way that they can meet these challenges. So we know this is big work.”
GROWING IT YOURSELF!
Learning about good NUTRITION and even growing some of your own food really helps. Community and school gardens are also key programs of the CFB. While gardening in our hot climate isn’t easy, you’re producing food in a more sustainable way, and fresher is better!
The CFB partners with local schools to help with their gardens. It offers family volunteer days at its Nuestra Tierra Learning Garden. At CFB’s Las Milpitas Community Farm, people living nearby can sign up for free plots to learn about gardening and to grow their own food—seeds included!