"A Taste of Hunger" Opens Minds, Hearts | People
Let this number wash over you for a moment - 130,000 families in Shelby County now receive food stamps.
Travis Williams, Program Director for the Tennessee Department of Human Services, revealed the astounding number at “A Taste of Hunger,” an effort to address food insecurity in the Memphis area in a new and creative way.
“We believe there are more people who qualify for the food stamps program in the Memphis area, but the current total of families represents 265,000 people in Shelby County,” Williams told a crowd of 200 community leaders.
Nearly one million people live in Shelby County, the vast majority in the city of Memphis.
Based on Williams’ figures, more than one quarter of Shelby County’s 927,644 residents now receive food stamps.
The eight county metro Memphis area was ranked first in the nation in food insecurity by the Gallup Organization in 2010 in a survey conducted for the Food Resource Action Center.
The survey found 26 percent of the people in the area were uncertain about where they would obtain food at least one point in the preceding year, a statistic consistent with the current state food stamp numbers.
Some good people united to do something about this vexing issue of hunger in our midst this week.
Some dined on a sumptuous meal of salmon, a splendid salad and all the trimmings.
Others consumed spaghetti, plain bread and Big K Diet Cola. A third group ate peanut butter and bread.
It was an effort to “dramatize the disparity in food security” in Memphis.
The 200 community leaders of diverse faith backgrounds gathered at Anshei Sphard-Beth El Emeth Congregation in East Memphis on Sunday night, Nov. 4 for the unique dining experience that featured brainstorming at each table.
The differences in the meals were designed to reflect the realities of nutrition in Memphis: those dining on salmon represented an estimated 40 percent of our citizens who can afford nutritious, healthy meals at home or restaurants anytime they’d like.
Another 40 percent - those served pasta portions - were symbolic of the middle class families who struggle to put bread on their tables yet manage to do so.
Those dining on plain peanut butter sandwiches portrayed the 20 percent of Memphians who have “food insecurity.” Williams’ statistics revealed the number is significantly higher.
Those on the front line of hunger in the Mid-South shared snapshots of their challenges.
Sally Jones Heinz, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA), the local Meals on Wheels distributor, reported that 17.5 percent of senior citizens in the community are “at risk” for going hungry.
Estella Mayhue-Greer, President and CEO of the Mid-South Food Bank, gave an overview of the massive challenges her agency faces while serving a 31 county area that covers parts of West Tennessee, North Mississippi and East Arkansas. Mayhue-Greer said the Food Bank created a weekend emergency food program for children who qualify for public school meal assistance.
The Food Bank originated a Friday afternoon Food for Kids Backpack Program that furnishes six meals per backpack to children who qualify at Boys and Girls Clubs and other locations.
Chris Peterson of Grow Memphis talked about the rapidly rising number of urban gardens in Memphis, many strategically located in neighborhoods that have no access to full service supermarkets.
Dr. Ken Reardon, Director of the Graduate program in City and Regional Planning at the University of Memphis, revealed plans for the Green Machine, a mobile produce market and food store that will visit fifteen so-called food deserts in Memphis starting in 2013.
After the presentations, table mates tried to answer the question, “how will this night be different from all other nights?”
Creative ideas were shared and the organizers of “A Taste of Hunger” were thrilled with the responses.
“The entire planning committee of A Taste of Hunger was overjoyed at the success of our first endeavor to catalyze a city in a grassroots effort to reduce food insecurity," said Rev. Carla Meisterman, Pastor of Balmoral Presbyterian Church, who was one of a team of key organizers.
"To stand in the beautiful banquet facility at Anshei Sphard-Beth-El Emeth synagoague and watch religious leaders from the Jewish Community, the Christian community and the Muslim community, the business community, higher education, government and social service agencies - eating together, brainstorming together and learning together - was a groundbreaking moment, not just in our city - but in our world," he continued.
Balmoral Presbyterian members helped start the event with the Memphis Jewish Federation Anti-Poverty Task Force and a host of Memphians concerned about hunger in the community.
The mission statement of the group is as follows: “A Taste of Hunger is a broad-based initiative to educate, motivate, and engage our community in a hands-on effort to alleviate hunger. A Taste of Hunger will dramatize the disparity in food security in our city and empower individuals and organizations to comprehend and combat hunger in Memphis.”
“A Taste of Hunger sent 200 leaders back into our community armed with a Resource Guide of statistics, stories and solutions - a compilation of the energy that organizations and individuals in our community are already investing in feeding the hungry in our midst," said Rev. Meisterman.
Meisterman said she used a Harvard professor Jerry Sternin’s concept on alleviating profound hunger issues in Vietnam as a starting point for the program.
Based on the raw numbers shared at the dinner, “A Taste of Hunger” has a taken a tiny first bite out of the gigantic issue of food insecurity in the Memphis-Mid-South community.