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Hunger not sole mission of food banks

by Jasmine Bautista
Dietetic Intern
Food banks usually serve as a collection place for canned food. Yet, through the years, food banks have evolved beyond addressing the issue of hunger simply with a can of pork and beans. Meeting the nutritional needs and enhancing the nutrition knowledge of donation recipients have become greater missions. Food banks throughout the nation no longer limit efforts to providing general sustenance; they are also looking to provide quality nutrition to those who are most in need.
Despite our civilization, the ancient practice of gleaning has continued to thrive. Historically, farmers would collect a portion of their crops before and after the harvest and give these extras to the needy. Recently, this custom has transformed into a joint effort between farmers and local food banks. Professional farmers and backyard harvesters offer up their excess harvest that would have been otherwise wasted. With the help of community volunteers, up to 1,000 pounds of fresh fruit or vegetables can be collected on any given day. The fresh produce is then brought directly to local food banks or main distributors such as Feeding America, which serves more 200 food banks.
Feeding America, formerly known as America’s Second Harvest, provides more than 2 billion pounds of food and grocery products every year. As a result of the program’s successful brainchild, the National Produce Program, fresh produce has become the primary category of distributed food. In 2005, 311 million pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables were provided throughout the network of food banks. An average of 2.2 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables are delivered weekly.
Feeding America also strives to equip families with knowledge power through nutrition education programs implemented in network food banks. Our Lowcountry Food Bank (LCFB) belongs to the Feeding America network and serves 10 counties, including Charleston.
The LCFB serves as a clearinghouse of food donations to local agencies such as Emergency Relief, shelters for homeless or battered women, community kitchens, and food pantries. However, the job does not stop there. In a tag-team effort, these organizations feed and educate low-income children and their families through two major nutrition education programs: Kid’s Café and the Backpack Buddy Program.
The concept of the Kid’s Café was born late one night in 1989 in Savannah when two young brothers were found searching for food in their housing project’s community center. The program supplies free balanced meals and snacks to children at different venues, public schools, churches, the YMCA, and the Boys & Girls Club.
LCFB and local agencies blend both nutrition and after-school tutoring to mold healthy minds. The Backpack Buddy Program was conceived by an Arkansas rice depot after receiving continual requests for help from a school nurse, because so many students were complaining of stomach aches and dizziness caused by hunger. This program gives discrete backpacks filled with non-perishable groceries and fresh produce to low-income children to take home to their families.
Not only is combating hunger over the weekend a major program objective, but so is instilling the importance of healthy eating at a young age. Before the 175 backpacks are handed out each Friday, the children are taught a short nutrition lesson on topics ranging from different food groups to serving sizes to physical activity. This information also is placed in the backpacks to encourage families to learn along with their children throughout the school year.
Hunger has always been the primary call of the needy. Food banks are beginning to realize that it is not enough to simply alleviate hunger pains. They have realized that the marginalized deserve optimal nutrition just as much as those who can afford it. By providing fresh and nutrient-dense foods as well as lessons in healthy eating, food banks are advocating the overall growth of the body and mind of every individual.


Friday, Dec. 19, 2008

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