About 200 community leaders gathered at Anshei Sphard Beth El Emeth Congregation in East Memphis Nov. 4 for an event called ‘A Taste of Hunger.’
The event was held to raise awareness about issues of hunger and food in Memphis. It was co-sponsored by the Mid-South Food Bank, MIFA, the Memphis Jewish Federation and Balmoral Presbyterian Church.
Here are some of informational presentations that were made at the event:
Mid-South Food Bank and the fight against food insecurity
By Estella Mayhue-Greer
President and CEO, Mid-South Food Bank
According to new hunger statistics from USDA more than 50 million Americans face hunger in the U.S., with nearly 17 million being children. That means 1 in 6 Americans lives in a household that worries about where they will get their next meal.
Food insecurity in Tennessee is 17.8 percent. But in Shelby County, it is 21.2 percent—195,510 people. For Shelby County children, it’s even higher: 20.3 percent are food insecure — 49,510 children.
44 percent of all minor children in Shelby County live in households receiving assistance from at least one of three major federal safety-net programs: Food stamps (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), the Supplemental Security Income program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (commonly known as welfare). That is well above the national proportion of children on assistance.
Research indicates that even mild undernutrition experienced by children during critical periods of growth impacts their behavior, their school performance, and their overall cognitive development.
In adults, hunger leads to poor work performance, greater absenteeism, increased risk for illness and illnesses that last longer. Many adults sacrifice their own nutritional needs in order that their children can eat. Or they have to make the difficult choices of paying for food or paying rent, utilities or to put gas in the car to get to work.
For seniors, their health and medical needs can be compromised when there is not enough food to eat. Food insecure seniors are twice as likely to report poor health. Protecting seniors from food insecurity and hunger is more difficult than for the general population because they often do not have the resources to access or prepare food due to lack of transportation, functional limitations, or health problems.
But to many people – maybe some of you in this room – hunger is just the homeless people in the downtown core. But we at the Food Bank know that hunger is not just there. It’s behind closed doors in all our neighborhoods and we’re finding it more and more. The faces of hunger of this city are the children, families and seniors living in poverty and going without.
Cassaundra and her husband have three children, ages seven, six and four. They were recently surprised with an unplanned pregnancy. She had given away all her baby clothes and is looking at those expenses, plus another mouth to feed. Her husband has a job and she used to work two jobs, but the pregnancy has made her too tired to clean houses for two different services so she’s cut back to one. The family receives SNAP benefits, but their benefits have been cut twice because of their income.
Carrie Campbell is 71 and likes having her independence. She has never applied for SNAP (food stamps) because friends have told her that it’s too much trouble. She gets her monthly Social Security check, but with only a small cost of living increase in Social Security, she is finding it harder to make ends meet. But she takes it in stride. “Hard times can come to anybody,” she says.
Jimmy got laid off nearly two years ago and is still looking for work. He got unemployment, but it’s run out. He’s supposed to pay child support, but he can’t even support himself right now. The first time he went to a soup kitchen, he was embarrassed and ashamed, until he started talking to the people there and found out they were just like him.
Tonight you’re going to learn and talk about the problem of hunger, but I want to take a minute to talk about one of the solutions – the one closest to my heart: Mid-South Food Bank. Mid-South Bank serves charitable agencies that feed hungry people in west Tennessee, east Arkansas and north Mississippi. More than half of our partner agencies are in Memphis.
Hunger’s Hope provides food and other grocery items to agencies in 31-counties such as emergency food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters for the homeless, abused women and children, rehabilitation programs, daycares for children, the elderly and the disabled, and after-school programs.
The Food for Kids BackPack Program gives children a backpack filled with wholesome food to take home every weekend.
Kids Cafes feed needy children a hot, nutritious meal in a restaurant-like atmosphere twice a week. The kids also receive nutrition and healthy lifestyle education.
The Mobile Pantry distributes large amounts of food and other groceries to underserved rural areas.
Mid-South Food Bank is proud to be part of tonight’s Taste of Hunger event. We hope you learn something, it stimulates some thoughts and you leave ready to take action to join us in the fight against hunger.
Sally Jones Heinz
Executive Director, MIFA
Food is meant to be shared
Good evening. I’m Sally Heinz, executive director of the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association, better known to you all as MIFA.
I’m very glad to be part of this event. But more importantly, I’m grateful to be part of a community that values an event like this one. There are so many programs working to combat hunger in our city, which speaks not only to the profound need our neighbors experience, but also to the fact that we are a generous city, a caring city, and one that will work tirelessly toward solutions for the good of all.
At MIFA, our mission is to support the independence of vulnerable seniors and families in crisis through high-impact programs. That idea of independence is at the core of our work — we consider it the most important aspect of our work—and while our programs provide several types of assistance, in many cases, our clients’ independence hinges of the availability of food.
Did you know that Tennessee ranks fifth in the nation in the number of seniors at risk for hunger? An incredible — and frightening — 17.5% of seniors in our state are at risk of going hungry, according to a study by the Meals on Wheels Research Foundation earlier this year. Between 2010 and 2013, the senior population in our four-county area is expected to increase by 30,000. In Shelby County alone, that population will grow 18% by 2015.
So what does all this mean? It means that MIFA’s Meals on Wheels program is more critical than ever. It means that the 448,000 meals we served last year will be even more vital next year. It means that, for every client we serve, there are many more who need our help.
Meals are social events. Food is meant to be shared. We sit down for dinner with our families. We go to lunch with our friends. But imagine for a moment that you are a senior whose mobility issues confine you to your home, that you not only lack money for food, but you have no way to get to the grocery store. How valuable would a MIFA meal be then? How much would you look forward to visiting with the volunteer who delivered your meal every day? How grateful would you be to stay in your home, where you are comfortable, instead of giving up your independence and moving to a nursing home?
This is how we maintain our clients’ independence through food. We provide a hot, nutritious meal every weekday. Our volunteers provide human contact and monitor each client’s health and well-being. MIFA has provided this service since 1976, and as long as the need is there, we will be too.
Meals on Wheels offers us an opportunity to partner with other agencies in our efforts to combat hunger. Memphis Jewish Federation provides kosher meals. Churches serve as congregate meal sites. Employees from corporate partners like FedEx, International Paper, and ServiceMaster deliver regular meals routes. Joe Birch has delivered meals to Route 12 each week since 1997!
In addition to Meals on Wheels, we also provide food through our Emergency Services program and an extensive network of food pantries, with the help of Mid-South Food Bank. Individuals and families facing a temporary financial crisis can come to us for food vouchers, canned goods, and other essential items to help them get through the day. No matter how difficult a client’s situation is, the most basic items—like food—can provide comfort and relief.
So again, I’m grateful to be a part of this community. I’m grateful for everyone in this room who has ever delivered a Meals on Wheels route. I’m grateful for the client from 20 years ago who recently dropped off a box of canned goods and told us he’d never forget how we helped him. I’m grateful for our refusal to ignore the need in our community, for our collective conviction to help those neighbors who need it most.
I hope that, through the conversations we have and the connections we make this evening, we can arrive at a better solution together than we can alone. Thank you all for your time, your effort, and your commitment to our city.
By Dr. Kenneth Reardon
Professor, University of Memphis
Promoting Food Security in the Bluff City
Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I want to thank Joe Birch for that generous introduction. In the Borough of The Bronx where I grew up my Jewish friends would refer to someone life Joe Birch who is a consistent doer of good deeds as a Mensch. Memphis is so lucky to have Joe as a journalist and civic leader in our community,
I also want to thank Cindy Shainberg and the Temple’s Program Planning Committee for inviting me to participate in this important hunger education and action event. I am here tonight representing two organizations – the University of Memphis where I teach city planning and Saint Patrick Catholic Church located just south of the FedEX Forum where I am a member.
I am here this evening to talk about a very exciting new project called the Green Machine Mobile Food Market which St. Patrick and other community organizations in the Vance Avenue neighborhood have been working on for more than a year. This project builds upon our parish’s longstanding involvement in the fight again hunger. Our congregation recently established a very successful community garden, called the Common Ground Garden, at the corner of Lauderdale and Linder where fifteen local families grow fresh fruits and vegetables for themselves and their neighbors.
It also builds upon the work St. Patrick and the U of M has done to assist South Memphis religious leaders in establishing the South Memphis Farmers Market – the second most active farmers market which 400 individuals shop at each week at the corner of Mississippi Boulevard and South Parkway East.
It also builds upon the food pantry services which St. Patrick offers four days a week with the help of MIFA and the Mid-South Food Bank which hundreds of local residents take advantage of each month – a service which we hope and pray will not be as necessary in the future.
Finally, the project builds upon St. Patrick’s Sunday feeding program which provides a hot meal to more than 200 homeless men, women, and children each week. A Program which we call, “More than a meal” in recognition of the importance of food not only to the body, but the soul, and the family. Meals are times when we come together as families and communities – when this is not possible because of the lack of access to healthy foods – the social fabric of our community suffers.
Why, in addition to the list of food ministries, have we gotten involved in the Green Machine Mobile Food Ministry?
Well, in spite of all of our efforts and the collective efforts of the hundreds of people gathered here this evening – basic food access remains a formidable problem for poor and working-class Memphians!
Only 7 of the 77 high poverty Census Tracts in Memphis have a full-service supermarket nearby! Most of these neighborhoods are located in a large semi-circle around our Central Business District. Nearly one third of our city’s population lives in this part of our community.
Four out of five of the poor in our city do not have access to private automobiles. They are forced to travel to distant food stores either by bus or private car service. For low-income families already living under stress this additional commitment of time and money represents another expense they have to meet. This challenge has become even more serious in light of recent MATA service cuts which fall disproportionately on poor neighborhoods.
As a result of these factors, low income families in Memphis are forced to spend a disproportionately large share of their family food budgets at local convenience stores which stock few fresh food products and charge much higher prices. As a result of these factors, as well as cuts in physical education programs, the physical deterioration of neighborhood playgrounds and parks, and intense corporate advertising promoting processes foods, our state is experiencing serious heath problems. Tennessee is currently ranked 47th in overall health by the Centers for Disease Control with four of the top ten causes of serious illness and death being food-related ailments.
Alarmed by this situation, a member of St. Patrick Church, Cathy Winterburn began looking at creating food access programs. In Oprah Magazine she read about Fresh Moves, a Chicago group, that had converted a used city bus into a rolling farmers market. With the assistance of MATA, we have arranged to rent a high-quality used city bus which we are currently in the process of transforming, as we would say in The Bronx, into a “drop dead beautiful” fresh fruits and vegetables store. This store will thanks to Easy Way Stores, offer residents of fifteen of the city’s poorest food deserts weekly access to a wide range of high quality, farm fresh, culturally appropriate, and competitively prices fruits, vegetables and dried goods.
Next month you will see our bus in the COGIC Church Parking lot next to St. Patrick where children from St. Patrick School, Knowledge Quest, and Hollis Price High School will be transforming the exterior of the bus with an elegant fresh foods mural. This work will be carried out by volunteers from the Vance Avenue Collaborative and our favorite NBA Team – the Memphis Grizzlies whose basketball operations group along with the Assisi Foundation, Community Foundation and all those who support the Gibson 5K Race have provided financial support for the project.
We hope you will do what you can to support this new food security effort as well as the other projects operated by the other outstanding non-profits represented on this evening’s panel. As we do our best to address the immediate nutritional, health, and wellness needs of our region’s poor. We must also commit ourselves to looking at the structural causes of our region’s increasing income, wealth, and power disparities which make the struggle for bread and increasingly difficult goal for so many of our neighbors to reach. This will require us to extend our work beyond charity to look at the social justice dimensions of this problem.
Thank you for inviting me.
By Chris Peterson
Executive Director, Grow Memphis
Tackling the roots of hunger
GrowMemphis is looking at the root causes of hunger, which means access to fresh, healthy food.
We also work at the intersection of hunger and obesity: an overwhelming number of Memphians don’t even have access to a full service grocery store, which means they either go hungry or rely on cheap, unhealthy, processed foods in corner stores of fast food restaurants.
In Memphis, tackling this issue means we work primarily, though not exclusively, with low-income residents and people of color. These residents live in Food Deserts. It’s unbelievable that in 2012 in one of the 50 largest cities in the country there are so many people who live in areas where they can’t even get to a grocery store.
We believe that lasting solutions come when we listen to and empower the people actually experiencing these situations.
1. Community Gardens: Another thing that these communities have an overabundance of is empty, blighted property that attracts crime and lower neighborhood morale.
Our primary work is with training community members to transform blighted properties into community gardens where they can produce healthy, fresh food for themselves, their families and their neighbors.
We provide start-up funds, seeds, plant starts, technical assistance and training for partner projects
We will be offering three trainings in the coming year: 1. Community Gardening 101 – a comprehensive training in managing a community garden and the basics of horticulture; 2. a business skills training for residents wanting to expand into business opportunities in Urban Agriculture; 3. an intermediate advanced training in soil building and composting.
2. Food Policy
Working in this field we’ve run into a number of policy barriers to doing this work effective, so as a way of more comprehensively tackling these issues 2 years ago we began convening the Food Advisory Council for Memphis and Shelby County with support from the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis. This is a group of local stakeholders including non-profits, community members, and local government working to provide healthy, fresh food to every resident of our city and county and strengthen the local food economy
Memphis Food Ordinance Handbook — comprehensive document covering all of the health and inspection codes for our food system (hasn’t been updated since 1964). Although everyone knew this was out of date, nobody had the capacity to do anything about it so we worked with the Shelby County Health Department and Harvard Law School to do comprehensive review. We are currently working with them to get these revisions passed through the City Council and County Commission
Unified Development Code — worked to make it easier to establish farmers markets and community gardens, keep backyard chickens and bees- seems to many to be a midtown, yuppie, thing, but this has been a means of survival for low-income people for generations, so we are trying to rekindle these activities.
We’re also looking at Land Use policies for residents who want to use vacant property to produce food.
We’re working with Food Financing Taskforce (representatives from — but not limited to — EDGE, Community Lift, Healthy Memphis Common Table, City and County Government, the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis) to bring back Grocery Stores to food deserts and to facilitate corner stores providing more fresh produce.
The Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team (a partner in this project) recently did a study that showed that South Memphis has a $70 million market for groceries, yet only 30% of this money is being spent in the neighborhood. There’s no logical reason that a grocery store isn’t already in this neighborhood. It’s our hope that we can work together to bring stores back into these neighborhoods.
3. Double Green$ Program
Partnered with a national foundation to double the value of SNAP (food stamps) at farmers markets. What this shows is that given the resources there is certainly a demand for fresh, healthy food…people just can’t afford it. Our hope is that if we can demonstrate demand, we can demand comprehensive change to a system that allows people to go hungry.
‘A Taste of Hunger’ was organized by:
Community Relations Director
Memphis Jewish Federation
Rev. Carla Meisterman
Balmoral Presbyterian Church
Inter-Faith Relations Officer,
Senior Program Associate,
Mid-South Food Bank
Center for Transforming Communities
Dr. Kendra Hotz
Professor, Rhodes College
Theologian in Residence, Church Health Center