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How can we help solve food insecurity in Arizona?

St. Vincent de Paul experts weigh in

This week, we asked members of the St. Vincent de Paul community about what food insecurity is and how they are helping to tackle it. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of available financial resources for food at the level of the household. On the other hand, food security refers to people having access to enough food for an active, healthy life.

SVdP helps combat food insecurity through several branches of its programming, including its dining rooms, food pantries, in-home food box delivery program, urban farms and family nutrition assistance

But tackling food insecurity can be a big issue to deal with and many of us ask the question, “How can I help solve it?” While there is no easy answer, hearing the insight of SVdP experts who have worked with the most vulnerable in Arizona for several years may prove helpful.

 

Jonnathan Halpe
Family Evening Meal Program Supervisor
Family Dining Room

Food insecurity plays a big role in the community we serve. Many food-insecure families have at least one member who is working, but this instability of either only having one low income or no income at all creates hardships. Many food-insecure families live entirely on food stamps and government funding, which helps them but also comes with limitations and qualifications that can put a huge strain on families, especially the children. I've seen some families in those circumstances consume large amounts of food in their portion sizes because they don’t know when they will be able to eat again. These inconsistencies create unhealthy diets consisting of cheap fast foods, soda and very few nutritious products. 

Some ways we combat food insecurity is by providing families a dinner service every weeknight that they can count on in our Family Dining Room. There we can address families portion sizes and make a large selection of fresh salad items available. We also hold a healthy eating habits class where we show the moms recipes on how to cook nutritious and healthy meals. In addition, we have a fresh and free program where we give families fresh produce from our urban farms, when available. There is still a long way to go in the fight against food insecurity but every day here at SVdP we strive to take the burden of worrying about food off of the families. Instead, we provide them a stable food source and help them maintain a healthy lifestyle, so that they can focus less on energy on food and more energy on regaining a stable footing in life.

 

Karen McAlister
Vincentian Volunteer
Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church food pantry

Arizona’s hunger rate is above the national average and has continued to grow over the last five years. Quantity isn’t the only issue, but also one of quality. Filling tummies with high carb, processed foods - even buying fast food - is usually cheaper and more accessible than healthier choices. The goal of our SVdP pantry volunteers is to feed low-income families struggling between paying bills and putting food on the table. At Most Holy Trinity, we serve Sunnyslope, Phoenix’s most socio-economically diverse neighborhood. All three zip codes here contain food deserts, where there are no large grocery stores within a mile walking distance. 

Remember when your kids were little, and it took extra time to load and unload kids and car seats just to get some groceries? Now, imagine waiting at the bus stop with those little ones on a hot summer day, riding the bus to the store, buying only enough food for a few days because that’s all you could carry, reversing the process to get home and repeating the process all over again after several days. 

At SVdP, we help families caught in this cycle. While thankfully, there are several food banks that help stretch food dollars, SVdP is the only group delivering food boxes in-home, directly to families in need. Our food boxes and SVdP dining rooms do make a difference! But until healthier food is more accessible and the oxymoron of “working poor” is addressed by paying a living wage, it will only make a dent in the larger challenge of food insecurity.

 

Taylor Scarpelli
Urban Farmer
Rob & Melani Walton Urban Farm

In order to address food insecurity, our three urban farms are purposefully located in food deserts. These are areas where, unfortunately, much of the community is food insecure. As an organization we aim to feed the hungry, but as farmers within that organization, we exist to feed the land so we can then fuel the meals that feed the hungry.

We work from the ground around. This means we are a part of a closed-loop system that begins and ends with dirt. Our top priority is to heal our soil, so it will produce nutritionally dense food for people who might not regularly get to eat a fresh tomato. Vitamins and nutrients are some of the building blocks of life. They make you feel good, and they set you up for success, which is what we strive to help make happen.

In a recent summer month, we brought in close to 5,000 pounds of fresh, organic, healthy produce, breaking a record for our program. We had so many cucumbers the kitchen staff handed them out to families at Family Evening Meal. That’s what we strive for, producing so much that we can start giving it away to people to take back home.

 

Elva Hooker
Family Wellness Director
Ben & Catherine Ivy Foundation Center for Family Wellness

The population we serve face many barriers to health. Many of them endure hardships due to food insecurity in addition to the financial burden and stress due to health issues related to obesity and diabetes. They have limited access to adequate food, which is often the last item on their priorities list. This issue is exacerbated and made more complex by the misconceptions surrounding food and healthy eating, food deserts and the high cost of healthful foods. Our patients often feel paralyzed or hopeless in making food decisions that are ultimately determined by food availability, affordability, or the effect of food on their health.

The Center for Family Wellness empowers families and individuals in their health by providing them with practical and culturally grounded nutrition education. Our team of Registered Dietitian Nutritionists and Community Health Workers help to simplify these concepts and provide them with practical strategies to overcome the barriers to food insecurity. It is a wonderful feeling to be able to see the instant sense of relief felt by our patients when they no longer feel limited by their choices but can truly start taking steps to improve their health with the thing they should enjoy, food.

Feed.

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