Moving forward with a path to address hunger and health
So far, during Hunger Action Month, I have discussed the physical, emotional and social impacts that hunger can have on individuals, families, employers and the community as a whole in this weekly column. But, how can longer term solutions be established that create healthier individuals and healthier communities?
While important, hunger relief is not enough. In emergency situations like Hurricane Florence, shelf stable food relief is necessary. Canned and boxed food, individually wrapped snacks and powdered milk can be easily transported and distributed to folks that need a short-term solution to their hunger.
But as a steady diet - month after month, year after year - this type of hunger relief has lifelong negative effects on health.
To create healthy communities, we all must look at food insecurity not only as a hunger issue, but as a health issue. Hunger and health are inextricably linked.
Maintaining a sustainable healthy lifestyle depends on more than just access to healthy food. It requires education and support through health coaching, instructional healthy cooking classes, healthy food markets, and community building.
The first step to achieving any goal is to learn, and having a good support system that helps you get there is essential. Look back on your own personal or career goals that you have either reached or not.
Did you have a good support system? How did having a community of friends, coworkers or even strangers help you to achieve your goal?
The era of food relief being seen as charity, where people stand in food lines to receive whatever excess foods are available must be put behind us.
Food relief needs to be part of every community’s infrastructure and, to ensure sustainability, the whole community must be involved.
Bounty & Soul is a perfect example. With only four full-time and two part-time employees, our five weekly markets are made possible by over 130 loyal, community-member volunteers who give their time and skills generously and regularly.
The bulk of the healthy food distributed is donated and comes from the community - food retailers like Publix, Walmart and Sam’s Club; local farmers like Ten Mile Farm, Full Sun Farm, New Sprout Organic Farms; community gardens like The Lord’s Acre, Swannanoa Community Garden and Black Mountain Community Garden. We are supported by MANNA FoodBank and Food Connections, a food rescue agency recently expanded to this area.
MAHEC and Mission Health doctors refer their low-income patients to the wellness lessons and nutrition education classes and help by monitoring their health improvements. Dozens of local health experts help teach our weekly classes at markets, and UNC Ashville, Montreat College and Warren Wilson College provide skilled interns. 80 percent of our funding comes from local individuals, foundations and businesses. Truly an example of a community taking care of its community.
Our markets are welcoming, inclusive and supportive. Participants get to know each other, start walking groups and host pot-luck dinners where healthy recipes are shared. The infrastructure enables them to take control of their health and share their success in and with a community that cares. Our model works, but it is not the only viable solution.
The key is having a community that understands its hunger and health issues and cares enough about those affected to act.
So, I encourage you to get educated and get involved. Solving the issue of hunger and creating opportunities for everyone in the community to be healthier is not a passive activity; it requires that the community engages to take care of the community.
To learn more and get involved, go to www.bountyandsoul.org.
Bruce Ganger is the executive director of Black Mountain-based nonprofit Bounty & Soul, which provides under-served populations in the community with free, healthy food and education on nutrition.