So many of us take it for granted.
Food on the table seems like such a basic part of life. Yet for many families, it’s not that simple.
We were reminded of this harsh reality when the Food Research and Action Center’s data revealed that a quarter of our state struggles with hunger, up from 2011. Hunger is even closer to home than we imagine and hurts many in our community.
Through United Way’s recent hunger assessment, data showed us that 82,000 households in Maricopa County experience what experts call chronic hunger — meaning they can’t afford or don’t have access to the basic food to live healthy, productive lives. That’s about one in 20 households right here in our neighborhoods.
Of the 82,000 households experiencing chronic hunger, nearly half include children and another 20 percent are senior citizens. The worry does not end there. Single parents and pregnant women are among those most severely impacted.
The impact goes beyond growling stomachs. Children who go to school hungry are unable to focus in class, which threatens their long-term academic success. Working parents reduce their meals or go without, so their kids can eat. Too many senior citizens must choose between medication and food.
These choices are unacceptable. Especially when there are solutions.
There are a number of groups — including food banks, social service agencies and faith-based organizations — that are working hard to provide families with emergency food.
This is important work, but these efforts treat the “symptoms” of chronic hunger; they don’t provide a comprehensive solution to cure hunger in Maricopa County.
That’s why United Way, the Association of Arizona Food Banks and leaders from the business community, non-profits, government, foundations and academia joined together to develop a comprehensive plan to end chronic hunger. The volunteer-led Ending Hunger Advisory Council guided the development of this plan, championed a solution to this complex issue and underscored that no one single organization can do it alone.
In this Unite to End Hunger plan we’ve set bold yet achievable goals. The first goal is to reduce chronic hunger in Maricopa County by 33 percent by 2016. United around a common goal and plan, we’ll then look to 2020 with the goal to reduce chronic hunger by another 33 percent.
The plan’s key components are: increasing participation in supplemental nutrition programs by pregnant women and their infants; improving distribution of meals to senior citizens who don’t have access to transportation; maximizing existing resources and improving coordination among service providers and increasing access to out-of-school-time meals for kids during the evenings, weekends and summer.
As summer approaches, the impact of hunger is even greater. At a time when many Valley students count the days to summer break, we know too many children face a summer of hunger and worry. For these kids, breakfast and lunch at school may be their only meals of the day.
That’s where this ambitious Unite To End Hunger initiative comes in. You can be a voice and lend your time to end hunger right here in our community. Read the full assessment at vsuw.org/hunger-plan to educate yourself and others about chronic hunger and find ways to get involved. Sign on to our End Hunger Team at vsuw.org and invite others to join the team too. Support children and spread the word about summer meal programs in our community, because hunger does not take breaks.
The effect hunger has on children, families and the elderly is profound — and the solutions to the problem are complex. But together, we can accomplish this ambitious goal — and end hunger for thousands of Maricopa County families.
Derrick Hall is president and CEO of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Merl Waschler is president and CEO of the Valley of the Sun United Way.