Requests for emergency food assistance are on the rise – and hungry people are being turned away. In the past hunger may not have been an agenda item at city council meetings or school board meetings or corporate board meetings. Today it really should be. – Liz Enbysk
When the U.S. Conference of Mayors surveyed 38 cities across the country about hunger and homelessness last year, 41% of them indicated requests for emergency food assistance had risen in the past year – citing low wages, high housing costs and poverty as the primary reasons.
Here's what that looks like:
- In 47% of survey cities, the emergency kitchens and food pantries had to reduce the quantity of food persons could receive at each food pantry visit or the amount of food offered per meal at emergency kitchens
- In 29% of the cities, they had to reduce the number of times a person or family could visit a food pantry each month
- In 47% of the cities, facilities had to turn people away due to lack of resources
We know government leaders the world over are trying various approaches to get homeless people off their streets and into stable housing – and we are seeing progress. In the Conference of Mayors report, for example, 65% of cities in the study reported decreases in homelessness from 2009 to 2016; 62% also reported decreases from 2015 to 2016. Those numbers mirror a long-term national trend in declining homelessness – although there's still a long way to go to end it.
So what will it take to see similar progress in the battle against hunger and malnutrition?
City officials surveyed by the Conference of Mayors indicated more affordable housing, more jobs and increasing SNAP (food stamp) benefits are actions that should be taken to reduce hunger. Employment training programs, better paying jobs, affordable childcare and higher wages were also cited as solutions to hunger.
It's a big, daunting list – and not any quick fixes on it.
What can be done?
So what can city leaders do – in partnership with the private sector, with nonprofits, with schools, etc. – to reduce the number of kids and senior citizens in their communities who go to bed hungry?
The Conference of Mayors report highlights a number of initiatives worth looking at – from San Francisco's home delivered grocery program that helps seniors with limited mobility cook in their own homes to the Healthy Corners program in Washington, D.C. that equips corner stores located in food deserts with the means to offer fresh produce and nutrition education.
Here are two more examples that illustrate how bringing community stakeholders together with a focus on food security can make a difference in the lives of disadvantaged children.
Mayor's Fund for London Kitchen Social project
With statistics suggesting as many as 500,000 London schoolchildren struggle for food during the 170 days of school holidays each year, the Mayor's Fund for London in January kicked off a campaign to raise £1 million to launch holiday meal clubs across the city. The Kitchen Social project will team with community organizations to offer healthy meals and social opportunities for disadvantaged children.
"Teachers report malnourished children returning to school after the holidays having fallen behind compared to their peers," said Matthew Patten, Mayor’s Fund for London chief executive. "Many young people will never claw back this learning and health disadvantage to fulfil their potential."
Patten adds that research suggests families and communities are affected too. "Some parents are skipping meals to feed their children and increased household fuel and food bills cause stress and uncertainty," he said. "This can lead to debt, poor diet and social isolation."
The expanded Kitchen Social campaign follows a pilot with local community groups in seven London boroughs, reducing hunger and social isolation and also teaching skills such as cooking and budgeting. Now to kick start the program across London, businesses and organizations are being asked to get involved – donating time, money, food or expertise.
Learn more in this video featuring Matt Ryder, London Deputy Mayor for Social Integration, Social Mobility and Community Engagement.
Two meals and more to go in Philly schools
An article from thenotebook.org highlights various ways Philadelphia schools are trying to ensure students have enough to eat so they are engaged and ready to learn and thrive. And it's a tough assignment in a city with the highest child poverty rate (38%) among the most populous U.S. cities.
The head of the school district's food services program says for many children, the only meals they get in a day are the breakfasts and lunches served at school. So the schools are trying hard to meet the need. For example:
A grab-and-go plan at Kensington Health Sciences Academy devised with help from students and professors at University of Pennsylvania enables high schoolers to grab a healthy breakfast off a cart at the school entrance; the number of kids getting breakfast jumped from 80 to 200 since that quick option was introduced.
Says principal James Williams: "We have created a culture where it is expected that many of our students get their food in the school instead of bringing in a bag of barbecue chips and an orange soda,” he said. "We cannot educate kids if they are not here, nor can we educate them if they’re not engaged – if they are preoccupied with food insecurity. We’ve got to do something about it."
Serving breakfast in classrooms at Willard Elementary during the first half hour of school has bumped the number of kids getting breakfast; previously when it was served in the cafeteria students often didn't get there in time to eat or they were late for class.
But breakfast and lunch aren't the only food available to Willard students. Teachers started stocking shelves in a conference room with food donated by teachers, with bags of provisions to last several days discreetly handed out to families in need. A school counselor said she and others started the food pantry when they noticed children coming to school with empty lunch boxes and asking classmates for food to take home.
Summer poses a challenge for families with reduced means. The Philadelphia schools continue serving meals at schools where they hold summer programs. But much of the heavy lifting is done by the city's Parks and Recreation Department, which thenotebook.org reports served 1.6 million meals plus over a million snacks at sites around the city in the summer of 2015. A major meals program operated by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia also helps feed children during the summer months.
This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.
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