Over 42 million Americans suffer from food insecurity, which is over 13% of people in the U.S. People are considered food insecure if they do not have reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. In other words, someone who is food insecure may not know where their next meal is going to come from or may fear that they will run out of food before they have money to buy more. In Montgomery County, Maryland, around 80,000 people are food insecure, including many children. This, along with other things I learned during my rotation at the Manna Food Center, has inspired me to write this blog post.
Food Insecurity in Montgomery County
According to Montgomery County Public Schools, over 30,000 elementary school students are eligible for Free and Reduced Meals (FARM), but only 11% of those are actively participating in the FARM program. Other programs aimed at reducing food insecurity are the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Unfortunately, some Americans don’t know about these programs or don’t know how to enroll in them. To help increase enrollment in these programs, some local organizations offer information, resources, and services to food-insecure members of the community. The Montgomery County Food Security Collaborative partners with other local organizations to address this issue. Their mission is to reduce hunger in Montgomery County by 2020 by redistributing fresh, perishable food and increasing collaboration among businesses, non-profits, food providers, and families in need for this purpose. Their partners include Manna Food Center, Women Who Care Ministries, GaithersburgHELP, Full Plate Ventures, and more. I also recently heard about Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), which helps low-income individuals prepare taxes free of charge. There are many dietitians who volunteer to help sign these individuals up for food assistance programs while they are waiting for their appointment.
If you’ve read this far and you would like to help reduce food insecurity in your community, one of the easiest ways to get involved is to volunteer your time to a local food bank. Other ways to get involved include donating money or food, organizing a fundraiser, or organizing a food drive. I volunteered at Manna Food Center by helping put together boxes of food for distribution. Each box consisted of fresh fruits and vegetables, non-perishable canned and boxed goods, a few pounds of protein foods, and bread. For most families, it was enough food to last two to three days. That may not sound like much, but it could be the difference between eating and going without until the next paycheck.
Food Insecurity and Health
Good nutrition is one of the most important factors that affects a person’s health. People who suffer from food insecurity are also at risk for developing chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. I want to continue to help these individuals by reducing food insecurity and promoting good nutritional health wherever and whenever I can. One way that I was able to do this during my rotation at Manna was to create educational inserts for the food boxes. These inserts accompanied boxes that were designated for special diets. For example, some of the inserts were related to diabetes. Each diabetes insert contained information about diabetes and how it relates to food and had a recipe using five or fewer ingredients so that clients could learn new ways to use the foods that are provided for them to create healthy meals. I’ve included an example below for you to see. This concept can continue to be expanded on so that every box that a client takes home has good, nutritious foods and information that will help make Montgomery County healthier and happier.