People have a lot of misimpressions about hunger. Many think it’s associated only with homelessness when it also affects working families, kids and seniors. Hunger is often invisible, but it exists in our neighbors’ homes, our schools and our workplaces.
“Food insecurity” is a term developed to describe households that are financially stretched to the point where they cannot be certain that all members will have enough to eat.
Pierce County residents experiencing food insecurity made 1.3 million visits to food pantries and meal sites in 2016. Fifty four percent of recipients were seniors and working families with children. The number that continues to go up at an alarming rate is seniors — up 30 percent in the past five years.
Approximately 60,000 children in the Pierce County school system receive free or reduced-price lunch. Some also receive breakfast. When school is out, the majority of these children will not have access to the summer meal programs that are dotted throughout the county.
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May is Hunger Awareness Month in Pierce County. At Emergency Food Network, we want you to be aware of these facts as you see the many ways you can make a difference. You can join us in providing the food that will be needed when more families, your neighbors, make extra trips to the food pantry.
We distribute more than 14.8 million pounds of food each year to our pantries and meal sites. That is equal to 25 semi-trailers a month.
But there is always something just one person can do to make a difference.
You can plant an extra row in your garden and take that food to a food bank. You can make a cash donation. You can register your fruit trees with tinyurl.com/EFN-gleaning, and someone will come and harvest the excess.
On May 13, the morning of the annual Letter Carriers Food Drive, you can leave a bag by your mailbox. If your donation can be just one item, please consider a protein such as peanut butter or tuna. If it can be more, add stew, canned fruit or vegetables, or baby formula.
Our network’s mission statement reads: “Providing Pierce County with a consistent, diverse, and nutritious food supply so that no person goes hungry.” For the last six years, we have purchased six food items — rice, beans, oats, canned fruit, canned vegetable and a frozen protein — to distribute alongside the government and donated food we already receive.
The one food group lacking is dairy. With your help, we will be adding dairy items to our purchased product list. The monies we raise from this month’s 2017 Hunger Walk & 5K Run will help launch that addition.
You can form a team with neighbors, family or co-workers and join hundreds at Fort Steilacoom Park for the walk and run on May 20.
There is so much we all can do. What we cannot do is ignore food insecurity.
Helen McGovern-Pilant is executive director of the Emergency Food Network, based in Lakewood. For more information, go to efoodnet.org.