Food deserts are defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as “areas that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk, and other foods that make up the full range of a healthy diet.” According to the organization Feeding America, one in six Americans is hungry.
There are a number of reasons why the hunger gap exists, including slow growth of the U.S. economy and rising food costs — 10-30 percent in some areas since 2008. Add to that a decrease in food stamps, and limited income is stretched between food, utilities, rent or other bills. Nutrition takes a back seat to more important needs.
To address the added challenges, several organizations across the country are increasing accessibility of healthier foods, promoting nutrition education, and providing additional sustainable relationships from farm to fork.
One of the biggest organizations, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), has been incorporating education, agriculture and resources to promote healthier Americans. Currently, some highlighted programs sponsored by the USDA include the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP). This program is available in 35 states, Guam and the District of Columbia and serves WIC and seniors. Find resources in your area for WIC information and for senior information.
These programs provide “a variety of fresh, nutritious, unprepared, locally grown fruits, vegetables and herbs (that) may be purchased with FMNP coupons." It's also worth noting that "state agencies can limit sales to specific foods grown within state borders to encourage FMNP recipients to support the farmers in their own states.”
Further supporting access to healthy food, nutrition education and health promotion is The Family Nutrition Program and the SNAP-ed (Supplementation Nutrition Assistance Program Education), both of which are grant-funded programs that teach those on food stamps about nutrition. The nationally offered programs' lessons include meal planning, grocery shopping, food budgeting and food safety. Find your local SNAP-ed coordinator.
Operation Share Our Strength
This organization has been a driving force in ending childhood hunger. It also runs local programs, such as the Local Matters program in Central Ohio, which involves participants in nutrition and cooking classes, gardening, provides community-supported agriculture bags, and lets participants use anything from debit cards to food stamps.
Operation Share Our Strength is able to support its programs with assistance from grant money, frequent community presence, and local food weeks that fundraise while also showcasing local restaurants serving local produce from local farms. It's a sustainable win-win situation for all involved.
Local food banks
The Cleveland Food Bank recently won a national award for their SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) outreach efforts. They increased their application efforts to enroll more participants, focused on at-risk populations and increased their presence at senior centers, AARP offices and programs serving veterans.
They also developed partnerships with schools, recreation centers and churches. In addition, they have a referral program to spread their mission to those without computer or internet access. To take their personalized efforts further, a mobile pantry was set up. The pantry is brought to a central location where clients can pick up food on a monthly basis.
Feeding America is the leading domestic hunger-relief charity. Its goal is to feed hungry Americans through a network of food banks. Nationwide, these food banks are feeling the pinch of food stamp cuts from coast to coast. Feeding America runs 200 food banks across the country, using creative and innovative ways to keep the banks full, which include offering eight different ways to give on its website.
How you can help
Find your closest food bank using the Feeding America website. From there you can contact your local affiliate, whether it’s a soup kitchen, shelter or food bank, and see what resources they need. Calling ahead helps make your contribution more impactful. You can use the same website to set up a local food drive, donate or find other ways to volunteer.