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For our “Be The Change” segment this month, we are featuring Feeding America. They are the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization. Together with individuals, charities, businesses and government, their goal is to end hunger in our country.
I’ve invited the Director of Communications, Zuani Villarreal to tell us more about the organization. We’re also going to discuss the state of hunger in our country, how this affects our nation’s children and what we can do about it.
The interview below has been condensed and edited for easier reading.
Andy Hill: How many of our fellow countrymen, the citizens that are in our country, how many of them go hungry each day?
Zuani Villarreal: Well, here in America I think hunger is one of those invisible problems. People don’t realize how many people struggle to get enough access to nutritious food every day. So according to the USDA’s Food and Security Report last year, it was about 37 million people in the United States that struggle with hunger. And that also includes more than 11 million children.
These 37 million people, through our Map the Meal Gap Study, we know that they live in every community in every county in the United States. And we know that they need our help. So it’s 1 in 9 people, 1 in 7 children that face hunger.
What is the impact of a child that goes hungry consistently?
Well, it’s very important for children that we do everything we can to make sure that they have enough nutritious food as they’re growing and developing.
Going to school, we want them to be hungry to learn and not hungry for food. So hunger can affect them in so many different ways, behaviorally, physically and psychologically. All of that stuff can impact the child’s development if they don’t adequate nutritious food.
Who are these 37 million people who are hungry in America?
They’re not what you would typically think are the hungry. A lot of people associate homelessness with hungry, but that is a small percentage.
Those 37 million people and 11 million children, they’re our:
- We go to church with them
- We can ride the bus with them to work
They’re everywhere, and they just are struggling month to month, day to day, to put enough food on the table. And that’s why Feeding America and that network of 200 food banks that we work with is here to help end hunger.
How does Feeding America support food banks across the country?
We are the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States and are the number two nonprofit according to Forbes list of top 100 charities. Feeding America is a network of 200 food banks that serve every county in every state, Washington DC and Puerto Rico.
Through those 200 food banks, we’re providing food assistance to more than 40 million people. We are serving every state, every county, and we are partnering with more than 60,000 meal programs, and church pantries, and soup kitchens to provide that food assistance to the people that are turning to food banks for help.
At the national level, I would say Feeding America is the association of food banks. And then a food bank at the local level would be like a distribution center that acquires and distributes truckloads of food donations, they work with everybody in the food industry from farmers and growers to manufacturers and retailers, restaurants and caterers.
So they’re gathering and collecting all those food donations into that central hub, where it’s then being distributed to those food pantries, and church pantries, and meal programs that are giving the food out directly to the people in need.
Food waste is a big problem. How is Feeding America tackling this issue?
72 billion pounds of food goes to waste every year here in the United States. That’s a lot of food.
And again, it’s 37 million people that are facing hunger. So if we can help tackle one issue I think we can help support the other.
Feeding America is the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States. We’re also the largest food rescue organization in the United States. Through those partnerships with national retailers, with food donors, with farmers and growers, we are working to rescue food that would otherwise end up in landfills.
And this is perfectly good, nutritious food that for one reason, might not end up on the shelves of the grocery store. But it’s perfectly good and it’ll go on the table of a family that needs it.
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How can people support Feeding America’s mission to end hunger in America?
First and foremost just in their own home, just be mindful of the food that they purchase and the food that they eat, and to reduce waste. So just be conscious of that.
Advocate Against Food Waste
Ask local retailers if they’re connected to food businesses and if they do donate to the food bank any unsold or any unused product. Connect them to the food bank and tell them the food bank is here to rescue food and to get it to the hands of families that need it. And then just raise awareness about the issue.
Support Your Local Food Bank
Food banks need those trucks and those drivers to go out and about and go prick up those food donations, so support your local food bank.
Volunteering at food banks is something that everybody can do. Millions of volunteers visit food banks every month, and donate millions and millions of hours of volunteer labor. And food banks can’t do what they do without the help of volunteers.
They help sort that donated product that is rescued, that is recovered, they sort it, make sure that it’s still good, and packaged, and labeled correctly, and edible and nutritious. And they’ll put that together into food boxes that’ll go out through that network of pantries and agencies.
Donate to Feeding America
I want people to understand that what we’re trying to do is end hunger in America. And everybody can think about the food that they eat, and everybody needs food, water, and air to survive. So hunger does not discriminate, hunger does not take a vacation, hunger occurs year-round here in the United States. And all of us can sympathize and empathize with families that are going without.
At the national level, for every one dollar that we receive, we’re able to distribute and help provide at least 10 meals to people in need through that network of food banks. Food banks are incredibly efficient.
We use volunteers, we use volunteer labor wherever we can, we scrimp and scrape to make sure that everything we’re doing and those dollars that we receive is doing to go and put food on the table for the people that we serve.
Incredibly efficient at the local level, administration costs are minimal percentage, less than 10% typically, 2-3% is the average for food banks. So your one dollar donation to a food bank and to Feeding America goes a long way to help put food on the table.
What are the results of Feeding America’s work thus far?
That vision of a hunger-free America is what we’re marching towards, and we measure progress through a variety of different ways. As I mentioned before, that USDA Food Security Report, that’s something that we look at every year when it comes out in September.
We also take that research from the USDA and we do our own kind of number crunching, adding Census Bureau information, Labor Bureau information, and we get our study called Map the Meal Gap. So Map the Meal Gap tells us what the food and security rates are for every county in the United States.
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And we’re looking at that, and we overlay the food distribution from our food banks to see how many pounds are being distributed in this county versus that country, how many people in need are here versus there. And food banks really look at that as kind of a way to do a strategic map of where they can focus efforts to get to the people in need, find those pockets of families and individuals that we aren’t reaching at this point.
- So what do we need to get to them?
- Do we need another truck and a driver?
- Do we need to seek out food partnerships in those communities?
- What else can we do?
So we track and measure that constantly and on an annual basis that Map the Meal Gap and the USDA Food Security Report really guide our work. We know this latest report from USDA told us that the food insecurity rate dropped for the first time to pre-recession levels. Now the recession was over 10 years ago, but it took that long for the levels to go back to that from more than a decade ago.
So recovery is slow and it’s a process, and as our food banks improve and increase their operations, we know that there’s still people out there that are still struggling, and our work still needs to be done.
There are still 37 million people that need our help.