Ky. Voices: Hunger in U.S., nutrition in spotlight this month

March 14, 2013 

This month offers two great opportunities for those concerned that 1 in 6 Kentuckians don't always know where their next meal will come from.

First, the documentary, A Place at the Table, sheds much-needed light on hunger in America. It accurately portrays the day-to-day struggles facing those who don't always have enough food to eat. A central message is the need for continued strong funding of federal nutrition programs, like SNAP (food stamps), that help keep millions of Americans from going hungry.

We are proud that the great work of one of our sister organizations, the Food Bank of the Rockies, is highlighted in the film, released in movies on iTunes and on on-demand TV.

Food banks play a crucial role in the fight against hunger and help fill the holes in the federal safety net. The demand for emergency food assistance has increased exponentially; food banks in Kentucky are serving 84 percent more individuals per year than in 2006.

That's why we are alarmed at recent proposals to cut billions from SNAP. It would be devastating to millions of vulnerable Americans who are struggling to make ends meet. Food banks are already stretched thin trying to meet the high need for food assistance. We could not make up the difference if billions were cut from the SNAP program.

We are hopeful that A Place at The Table will engage the public, media and government leaders to push for continued strong funding of programs that help keep millions of families from going hungry.

Second, March is National Nutrition Month, an education campaign sponsored annually by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The Kentucky Association of Food Banks is recognizing National Nutrition Month in honor of the 750,000 Kentuckians who lack consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.

The foods emphasized in the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines, such as fruits and vegetables, protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy, are often out of reach for many families we serve. KAFB is committed to helping hungry people get the food they need to eat right, their way, every day — the theme of this year's campaign.

Each year, our member food banks serve 620,100 Kentuckians struggling with hunger. In partnership with a network of over 1,000 local agencies, our members secure and distribute 52.6 million pounds of food and grocery products annually, including more than 11.5 million pounds of fresh produce.

The campaign focuses on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. Our food banks are working to ensure our clients have access to the information and skills they need to make smart food choices. Thanks to a grant from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, last summer we developed cards with nutritional information and recipes that we distributed along with fresh Kentucky-grown produce through our Farms to Food Banks program.

A recent program evaluation conducted by Dr. Timothy Woods of the University of Kentucky Food Systems Innovation Center found that half of our clients reported increased awareness of and familiarity with fresh produce over last year. Over half reported increased consumption of fresh produce. A vast majority, 89 percent, reported an intent to use more fresh produce in the future. We are working to equip clients with the resources they need to secure and eat a healthy diet — not just today, but in the long run too.

For more information about A Place at the Table visit www.takepart.com/place-at-the-table. For National Nutrition Month, visit www.eatright.org. For Kentucky food banks, visit www.kafb.org.

Tamara Sandberg is executive director of the Kentucky Association of Food Banks.

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