Devin Forest Cornwall
La Puente Volunteer
When the word “hunger” is mentioned, especially in the context of education, many people imagine thirty second commercials featuring a group of malnourished children wearing oversized NFL t-shirts on some far off continent. And although it’s true, there are great needs in these places to feed many mouths there are also thousands of other places facing hunger issues that don’t have celebrity backing, national exposure, or any advertising budgets. The truth is that hunger doesn’t just exist in some distant country that we can hold at arm’s length, it exists all around us.
One of the largest differences between our country’s hunger issues and that of a developing nation’s resides in the type of hunger we deal with. For a large portion of the United States’ population there is ample access to food in comparison to many third world countries. According to the World Trade Organization, the United States stands as the second largest exporter of food and agricultural products by value – second only to the European Union. Someone less interested in international exports as an indicator of U.S. hunger might also look at the country’s most prominent health problems – heart disease, diabetes, obesity – as markers how access to food and different diets has become such a problem that they stand as some of the nation’s top health problems. Simply put, Americans, on the majority, show no trouble of getting food; it’s only what we choose to do with the food in our possession that provides us conflict.
Last August I moved to the San Luis Valley as part of the new cycle of La Puente volunteers. Before arriving in Alamosa I had never heard of the term food insecure. It didn’t take long for the phrase to become familiar. Mel Huss, the director of the Food Bank Network of the San Luis Valley was very quick to fill me in on its definition during my first visit to the Alamosa Food Bank. Quoting the United States Department of Agriculture, food insecurity refers to a ‘lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members, or a limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.’
Most of the time someone who’s determined as being “food Insecure” has been in a situation where they’ve had to spend money normally used for food to pay off a utility bill or other needed expense. Such a situation drastically affects a family’s grocery choices and overall budget. And when the question of ‘how will I feed my family?’ arises, the term food insecurity seems a little more serious.
This past winter a family came to La Puente’s Outreach Services office requesting some firewood in order to heat their house. They drove a small pickup with a short cab. The truck bed was filled to the brim with groceries. They had made the trip into town to take care of errands, and on limited gas they hoped to knock out two tasks while they had the chance.
I could see their children through the rear window; sitting in the back seat, facing each other with little room for their legs. Their knees came up in between them, rising even with their chests. Occasionally they looked out at their parents as we discussed how to fit the firewood in the bed of the truck without squishing the groceries.
The husband and wife had brought a tiny beagle puppy with them which they let some of us hold. And as they elaborated on their heating situation, they told us that they did have two puppies just a week before. They said that it had gotten so cold in their house that one had died. That moment I began to understand the types of decisions and results people in the area had to live with when faced with food insecurity. And whether or not the groceries in the back of their truck represented the heating conflict they faced which eventually lead to their puppy’s passing, it struck me that the supplemental aid provided by the Food Bank Network of the SLV was a little more important than I had originally understood.
You may not know it, but approximately sixteen percent of the people in the San Luis Valley were considered food insecure over the last year according to self-reports conducted by the Food Bank Network of the SLV – a group of 13 food banks stretching from Antonito to Saguache and San Luis to Creede. According to the same study, around 41 percent of food bank recipients were children. About one in five households of the valley utilized the SLV Food Bank Network last year and between January and February 2012 alone, the Food Bank Network distributed around 13,000 pounds of food.
While we can lay as many numbers out as we want the questions remain: what can we really do with all that information? How does knowing all these local hunger issues help? I’m happy to say that you may lend a helping hand by doing something as simple as dropping off a canned good at your local food bank – remember there are thirteen throughout the valley. Volunteer for a few hours each week and help the full-time staff to stock the shelves, or handout items. It really isn’t all that hard. Helping out is more about being there and joining together than standing at arm’s length. It’s about getting in close and understanding and empathizing with the decisions people who face food insecurity have to make. And more so, it’s about strengthening a community by investing in its own people.