How can anyone face hunger in a country that wastes millions of pounds of food each year? There is more than enough food in America to feed every man, woman and child.
Yet new data released this month by Feeding America shows that hunger remains a persistent problem. According to Map the Meal Gap 2013, here in Kentucky 750,000 people do not always know where they will find their next meal. Children are disproportionately affected; nearly 1 in 4 of Kentucky's children face hunger.
Hunger exists in every county in Kentucky. The county with the highest rate is Fulton, at 24 percent. The county with the lowest rate, Oldham, has 1 in 10 residents facing hunger.
Once considered a problem only for very low-wage earners, hunger is now a problem for people from all walks of life. It affects people you see every day: the cashier at the grocery store, a child in your son's class, or a senior citizen down the street who requires expensive medication. Too many self-sufficient Kentuckians find themselves facing empty cupboards because of unexpected illness, injury, car repair, or life changes such as divorce.
In response, members of the Kentucky Association of Food Banks distributed 40.5 million meals last year in all 120 counties in Kentucky. We feed 620,100 Kentuckians each year.
Food banks in Kentucky are facing a crisis. Demand for emergency food assistance has increased while the supply of food available from USDA and manufacturers has decreased. Any cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), currently being debated in Congress, will only drive more Kentuckians to the food bank network to help put food on the table. Food banks are already struggling to meet the demand for emergency food assistance as it is.
Therefore, food banks are looking within the Commonwealth to help solve the problem of hunger. Through the Beef Counts KY program, established and endorsed by the Kentucky Beef Council, farmers and livestock auctions are teaming up to provide nutrient-rich beef to hungry Kentuckians through the food bank network.
The Farms To Food Banks program increases access to fresh Kentucky-grown produce among our struggling neighbors, reduces the amount of wasted food in Kentucky, and strengthens Kentucky's agricultural economy by helping farmers recoup losses for produce they would not have been able to sell otherwise.
With grant funds, we pay just below wholesale prices to farmers for their surplus and Number 2-grade produce, which is fresh and edible but not marketable because of minor blemishes and size discrepancies.
Kentucky is one of only 12 states that provide no General Fund support for hunger relief efforts. A well-fed population will save the Commonwealth in the long run through reduced healthcare costs, increased educational performance and enhanced worker productivity. Our hope is that the General Assembly will support hunger relief efforts through an appropriation in the 2014 session.
All of us -- individuals, charities, business leaders and government leaders -- have a role to play in making sure our struggling neighbors have enough to eat. Together, we can solve hunger in Kentucky.
If you would like to learn more about the Kentucky Association of Food Banks and what you can do to join the fight against hunger, please visit www.kafb.org.
Tamara's piece originally appeared in The Gleaner.