EJ Montini, The Republic | azcentral.com
April 28, 2014
A tragic and troubling Arizona story came to light last week. And was ignored.
We may be starving for news, but not for news about hunger, even when it's about our neighbors.
"Some of the numbers are really disturbing," said Angie Rodgers, president of the Association of Arizona Food Banks. "There is a real problem here."
Part of the problem is the language used by experts. They don't call it "hunger" anymore. They call it "food insecurity." According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture the term means "access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life."
For several years, now, the hunger-relief organization Feeding America, which works with food banks, has gathered nationwide data on whether our poorest brothers and sisters are getting enough to eat.
What they found is that in Arizona, as of 2012, more than a million Arizona residents struggle with food insecurity, including about 500,000 children.
"That's a lot greater number than the national average for kids," said Rodgers, "and some of the numbers from the rural counties are even more disturbing."
The association headed by Rodgers includes Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, Desert Mission Food Bank, St. Mary's Food Bank Alliance, United Food Bank, Yuma Community Food Bank and a network of food pantries and agencies.
"When we think of hungry people we think of malnourished people in third-world countries," she said. "With food insecurity it's different. Food insecurity is a little bit different than hunger. It involves questions like: How am I going to get to the food we need? How am I going to get to the right type of food? How will I pay for it? Think of it: if all you have to eat for days are potato chips that might stave off the hunger but is that enough?"
Pair that with a new report showing that more than 50 percent of Arizona renters don't earn enough to afford a two-bedroom unit. The choice for some is: Food or rent?
One of the people who alerted me to the Feeding America report, which is called "Map the Meal Gap," is a local teacher.
"Among the difficulties I expected to face in the classroom, hunger was not one of them," she said. "But I do face it. I see it all the time. And it's impossible to teach a child who hasn't eaten much."
Unlike many of today's problems, hunger, or food insecurity, or whatever we choose to call it, is solvable. By us.
"Food banks have evolved a lot over the years but the purpose has remained the same," Rodgers said. "Information like the Map the Meal Gap survey raises public awareness, but it also lets people know we can do something about it. We can donate to a food bank. We can volunteer. (Information is available at azfoodbanks.org or 602-528-3434.)"
Arizona should own this. St. Mary's is the world's first food bank. It was founded in 1967 by John van Hengel, who was then a volunteer server at the St. Vincent de Paul dining room in Phoenix.
Not long ago I was at St. Vincent's dining room and asked a volunteer there why he was feeding the hungry.
"I'm not feeding them," he told me. "I'm feeding my soul."