Solving hunger requires awareness, commitment
Do you know someone who’s hungry? Or if not hungry every day, someone who skips meals at the end of a pay period or who sometimes has to choose between buying food and medicine? Often people assume that it’s mostly street people who are hungry.
The reality of hunger in Alaska is that 40 percent of families seeking help at food pantries and other distribution agencies have at least one employed member. Almost 60 percent of people needing food help are facing unpaid medical bills.
Given the numbers alone – 1 in 7 Alaskans or 106,000 people who need food assistance – chances are we all know someone who is hungry and just don’t realize it. More than 1 in 5 Alaska children are not sure they’ll have enough to eat. And 7.5 percent of older Alaskans are at risk of hunger, ranking our state 15th in the nation for hunger risk among older adults. Social Security is the primary source of income for 16 percent of people using Alaska’s food distribution network.
Says AARP, “Hunger is a problem often hiding right in front of us. Older adults who are hungry don’t walk around with a big red H on their shirts. Many are too embarrassed to ask for help — or even to acknowledge that they need it.”
During September, Food Bank of Alaska and other food banks, pantries and food charities will be getting facts about hunger out in the open and rallying support for solving the problem during national Hunger Action Month.
Not surprisingly, people who cannot always count on having enough nutritious food are twice as likely to have diabetes, five times as likely to be depressed, and far more likely (44 percent compared to 17 percent) to have other health issues, according to AARP.
Poverty is the leading cause of hunger for seniors; living alone is another risk factor. Unfortunately, the problem is expected to grow as Baby Boomers enter their senior years.
You can make a difference
There are many ways you can be part of the solution to the hunger problem in Alaska:
• learn more about hunger and Hunger Action Month at FeedingAmerica.org and from your local food bank
• wear orange or go orange on Facebook for hunger awareness during September
• like your favorite anti-hunger agencies on Facebook and share information with your friends online and in person
• learn about public policies affecting hunger at the Alaska Food Policy Council, akfoodpolicycouncil.wordpress.com, and advocate for strong nutrition legislation at the state and federal levels
• volunteer at your local food bank, pantry, or senior center feeding program
• donate food or funds to your local food bank.
People can find food assistance in most Alaskan communities. Senior centers have Farmer’s Market coupons for eligible low-income seniors in Anchorage, Fairbanks and the Palmer/Wasilla areas with plans to expand to other areas as funds are available.
Senior nutrition services funded through state and federal grants are available in many communities across the state. Group meals and meals delivered to homes are offered to adults 60 and older, often through senior centers or the local school. Contact your local senior center or call 2-1-1 for meal sites and other food help in your community.
Karla Jutzi is the Food Bank of Alaska Director of Development and Communications. Food Bank of Alaska distributed 6.3 million pounds of food last year through 340 food assistance agencies statewide. Visit http://www.foodbankofalaska.com or facebook.com/foodbankofalaska.