Addressing Food Insecurity Through Community Engagement and Advocacy
Serving the Community Through Food Bank Engagement
There are many different community service opportunities within each city that have different goals that need to be reached. My colleagues and I had the opportunity to serve at the Hays County Food Bank to help fight food insecurity. Food insecurity is a serious condition that individuals around the world do not have the accessibility or income to afford food. The food bank is one reliable access to food for people who live in a specific area where the distribution center is.
The main vision and goal of the Hays County Food Bank is to create a well-nourished community and improve lives through different food assistance programs, advocacy, and nutrition education. The food bank provides a variety of food to food-insecure individuals throughout the county for free. One in seven residents is food insecure, specifically 24,940 people in Hays County. The Hays County Food Bank has a goal of giving access to food to any individual, regardless of their income. The individuals shouldn’t have to pick between either having food or having a place to live. The surrounding community provides the services and funds to the food bank to be able to collect food and make bags with one food item from nine different categories.
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The Food Bank was one of the easiest places to sign up and volunteer at any time of the week. I chose this place specifically because I have never volunteered at a food bank, and I wanted to be able to get experience of where the food comes from and how the volunteers categorize the food and put it in different bags to hand out to the people of the county. There is so much food that is distributed to people around the county, and that fills me with joy, knowing that I can help in the smallest way by going to pick up the food and bring it back to the distribution center to help feed people who are in need.
Navigating Challenges and Ensuring Quality Control
Volunteering for four hours might not seem like a lot of time given out of an entire day, but helping to provide access to food for people in need is making a difference for those individuals and the community as a whole. I enjoyed that there were various opportunities within the food bank, such as distribution, working in the front office, traveling to farms to plant and harvest food, and even working in the warehouse to weigh and sort the food.
The morning I volunteered, I was excited for the opportunity and learning experience. The manager at the food bank was very unfriendly and didn’t really seem to care that there were new volunteers for the morning shift. She put us in different groups, and there were certain tasks that I was expected to fulfill during my shift. Another colleague and I drove Buda and Kyle to the HEBs and Targets throughout each city and picked up all of the food that was donated. We were responsible for making sure that all of the food wasn’t expired and that frozen foods were not thawed out.
The food bank was in charge of having thermometers to check the meat, and all of them were broken, so the meat was not checked when picked up and brought back to the distribution center. The grocery store’s employee had to sign a paper after the volunteers picked up all the food and loaded it into the van to make sure that the food that was donated was not expired. There were issues with this as different foods, such as mushrooms, were expired, yet the employee said it was fine to take them back to the distribution center. Handing out food that is expired is hazardous for the people who pick up food to provide for their families. Once we got back to the food bank after picking up food, we unloaded it from the truck, helped organize the food into different categories, and washed the vegetables to be ready to be packaged up.
Understanding Food Insecurity’s Multi-faceted Impact
After learning about different concepts in public health, it is known that most food-insecure people are not provided with enough nutritious food, which harms not only their health but also the economic health of our state overall. Food banks are charitable organizations. Therefore, the food that is given to them is donated. There will be instances where the food bank has an insufficient amount of food. The cost of healthier food is also expensive, which is another reason why the demand for nutritious foods is low; people can’t always afford it.
Food insecurity has other negative effects, such as impaired physical and cognitive abilities in children. When children have poor health, the likeliness of getting sick increases, which can cause them to even be hospitalized if it is bad enough. Children who are hungry do not have a great opportunity to learn and focus in school. Not being able to take anything away from school because of constant hunger could cause issues down the road with children wanting to pursue further education. The U.S. government spends billions of dollars a year supporting food and nutrition assistance programs to feed low-income individuals.
This volunteering experience has taught me that there is so much to do at a food bank other than just simply handing out food. The Hays County Food Bank could have a better attitude about wanting to be there. The atmosphere in the food bank was slightly negative, and people were only there because they had to be. All in all, I enjoyed meeting new volunteers and being able to work in groups to get the job done to reach the goal of feeding as many food-insecure people as possible.
Food insecurity is a real problem that most fortunate people do not realize. There are so many individuals who suffer from hunger, and I did not actually realize all of this until I had the experience of listening to the volunteers explain how many bags are made daily and how many individuals come to pick up bags of food to provide for their families. To defeat food insecurity, communities and organizations around the country need to come together and take leadership roles in this serious condition.
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2019). The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/3/ca5162en/ca5162en.pdf
- United Nations. (2020). The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020. Retrieved from https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2020/The-Sustainable-Development-Goals-Report-2020.pdf
- Hays County Food Bank. (n.d.). About Us. Retrieved from https://haysfoodbank.org/about-us/
- United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. (2021). Food Security in the U.S. Key Statistics & Graphics. Retrieved from https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/key-statistics-graphics.aspx
- Gundersen, C., & Ziliak, J. P. (2015). Food Insecurity and Health Outcomes. Health Affairs, 34(11), 1830-1839. DOI: 10.1377/hlthaff.2015.0645
- Seligman, H. K., Laraia, B. A., & Kushel, M. B. (2010). Food insecurity is associated with chronic disease among low-income NHANES participants. Journal of Nutrition, 140(2), 304-310. DOI: 10.3945/jn.109.112573
- Nord, M., & Prell, M. (2011). Food Security Improved Following the 2009 ARRA Increase in SNAP Benefits. Economic Research Report No. (ERR-116). Retrieved from U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service website: https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/43768/12658_err116.pdf