Hunger: A Hidden Crisis
Hunger afflicts the young and burdens the old. It takes a tragic toll on lives here in Washington DC, across the country and around the world.
With hard work, hunger can be reduced and possibly eliminated, according to regional and national hunger experts and advocates who gathered recently for the 2013 Metropolitan Area Hunger Conference.
Nancy Roman, president and CEO of The Capital Area Food Bank, the DC nonprofit that sponsored the conference, estimated that 700,000 people in the greater DC region are hungry and that currently, food programs are only reaching 400,000 of them.
“To see that kind of hunger in the capital city of the most powerful country in the world, it’s really inexcusable,” Roman said.
But she was quick to point out that hunger is a global scourge. She noted that 40 percent of the world’s population in cities, or 68 billion people, are hungry.
Food must be made more affordable, and hungry people need to be educated about how to eat healthier and become self-sustaining, Roman added. Hunger shortens lives, and foodborne diseases spread most readily among those who don’t have enough to eat, she said.
Child hunger is a particular concern to David Lee, of the national hunger relief organization Feeding America, the parent organization for all food banks in the country. He said it imprints lives with an indelible mark.
“The malnourishment that starts in childhood does not leave,” he said in one of the workshops offered at the conference. “There are kids in school who don’t learn as well because they’re hungry,” he added. Hunger “erects barriers” to children’s proper development.
Lee praised federal programs such as Women, Infants and Children Food & Nutrition Service (WIC) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program also known as SNAP, or food stamps. He said the food provided by such programs pays off in healthier children and more productive adults.
He called on advocates to work to protect and increase funding but warned of “an uphill fight.”
Other speakers at the conference stressed the importance of empowering people by showing them self-sustaining practices, like planting their own gardens. Several attendees were from nonprofits that operate vegetable gardens. One group, called Top Banana, offers garden planting sessions. A client “feels strong, she feels empowered,” a representative said in an interview.
Some noted that many tomatoes can be grown with little more than a 2 to 6-yard patch of dirt and sunshine. Food pantries love offering fresh vegetables and fruits, but they are perishable and must be supplemented with canned and frozen produce.
The topic of food insecurity was also raised. Lee estimated that one in five children, and just over 50 million Americans meet that definition: they do not know where their next meal is coming from.
Food Bank spokeswoman Page Dahl Crosland said in an interview that this year the organization will be working with Feeding America to sponsor a demographic study geared toward better targeting resources to the neediest people throughout the Washington region.
To be published in 2014, Crosland said the study should be particularly useful in gathering demographic data about “hidden hunger,” among people who are in need of assistance but do not come forward for help. That problem is of particular concern among older citizens, the speakers noted.
Keynote speaker Enid Borden, founder, president and CEO of the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger, stressed hidden hunger and how the hungry are marginalized and stigmatized by society.
“We must work in unison to stop the madness. We can do so many wonderful things if we can end hunger,” she told the audience.
“You’ve taken on this challenge and said ‘we can do better.’ We together can do it; we must do it. Let’s imagine in Washington, D.C. there will be no hunger,” Borden concluded, to a standing ovation.