Food pantries, community markets: citizens battle against hunger
On a global scale, there are just less than 1 billion people fighting hunger. On a national scale, there are approximately 13 million. And right here in Alabama, there are 214,200 households that are food insecure.
Food scarcity surrounds us everywhere we go. However, with the exception of the winter holidays, most carry on with their lives ignoring the empty stomachs and subsequent health hazards that plague millions. In fact, many will launch their body across their living room in hopes of grabbing the remote and changing the channel before those Sally Struthers' commercials have taken hold.
However, in east Alabama, Lee County specifically, hunger has created a movement that has organizations sprouting up and jumping at the chance to get involved and battle hunger. Students, adults and even the elderly have begun working together in order to help feed their community. It is not a position of power that motivates these individuals to help, but a basic instinct.
"It's our duty as humans to help each other out," said Tim King, adviser for student organizations at Auburn University.
King's belief is mirrored by many throughout the community, as evidenced by the hundreds of volunteers at the many donation locations.
Even in an area where most financial problems stem from large University loans and not from smaller grocery bills, Hunger is still widespread.
"I think it is easy to forget because it is so picturesque [at the University] and so many students don't need to worry about their next meal," King said. "But students have said that they see other college students coming in and getting food, so it's one of those things people often don't think about, but it is happening."
Among the many organizations King oversees, he is adviser to The AU Food Pantry. This project developed and run by students creates safe and private environment for students in need. The application to benefit from the pantry is simple and non-invasive. It is more of a record keeper for King and Katherine Hettinger, co-adviser to The AU Food Pantry, to see who is making use of the project.
Working with The AU Food Pantry is another organization, Campus Kitchens. A university branch of the original D.C. Kitchens, Campus Kitchens works to feed not only university students, but also those in the community. The organization was an idea of the hunger studies minor capstone class and is advised by Jennifer Commander, vista volunteer.
More than 30 percent of students in the Auburn/Opelika area are on the assisted lunch plan, eating a free or reduced lunch. Often the breakfast and lunch provided to them by the school are their only meals for the day. And some students may go from Friday afternoon to Monday morning without anything to eat.
Campus Kitchens partnered with professional golfer Jason Dufner and his wife, Amanda, in pursuit of success for the project Blessings in a Backpack. Campus Kitchens chose two elementary schools in the Auburn/Opelika Area, Yarborough Elementary and Carver Elementary, where more than 90 percent of students were on the free or reduced meal plan. The Dufners fund the local branch of Blessings in a Backpack, which allows Campus Kitchens to partner with Kevin Mortar of Walmart and assemble bags for students to take home for the weekend. The weekend bag includes a can of pork and beans, a can of SpaghettiOs, a packet of popcorn, applesauce, two packets of oatmeal and two granola bars.
"We had so many teachers coming back to us saying that they were noticing a drastic difference in how kids were behaving on Monday," Commander said. "They had much higher attention rates and more energy and weren't as lethargic, and they think it's because the food has been helping them."
A widespread misconception of those who benefit from food banks is they are all on welfare or they are looking for a free ride. Elsie Lott, Director of the Community Market explains that isn't always the case.
Lott said the application process to be a client at The Community Market is thorough so as not to allow any abuse of the system. Because she believes the need of all her clients, Lott works to stock the shelves with not just discarded cabinet items that most people donate, but with coveted brand named goods as well.
The Market works unlike most food banks. Once a client is accepted he or she is awarded either 75 or 100 pounds of food per week. However, the family can have unlimited produce and bread. Lott only weighs the meat and packaged items. Clients have a wide variety of choices and with shopping carts donated by local grocery stores, one would hardly notice the market was a food bank. There are even sections of the store devoted to personal hygiene care and infant supplies.
"I want it to feel like a real grocery store," Lott said. "This is a last resort for people, but why does that mean that because they've hit hard times they can't celebrate with a cake or that their kid can't enjoy the same Capri Sun as a kid who isn't struggling."
Even full-time students set aside their free afternoons and weekends to help out.
"Sometimes when I'm really busy, I think that I don't have time to go, but then I'll pass by the market and remember all the good it does. All of a sudden, I have time to volunteer," said Perrin Tamblyn, senior in nutrition and dietetics and frequent volunteer at The Community Market of East Alabama.
The movement to end hunger in east Alabama is a force to be recognized. Hundreds of students across the University's campus and across the county are teaming up to fight food scarcity and are hoping to bring their movement to a global level.
Cary Bayless, a member of the committee of 19, an organization to fight hunger, said he feels confident that awareness is key.
"Awareness is everything. If people don't know how serious food insecurity is, they won't be motivated to join the battle," he said.