Bart Brown: Hunger linked to health
The holiday season is a time when many of us think about food more often than the rest of the year. With Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas parties with family and friends, it’s certainly the season of eating.
The folks we provide meals to across the Ozarks are also thinking about food this time of year, and all year long. But unfortunately, thinking about food when hungry leaves our neighbors feeling afraid and anxious.
When you don’t have enough to make ends meet, and food seems out of reach, too many of the people we serve don’t feel they have the ability to buy smart at the grocery store to supplement food from our pantries.
In fact, 84 percent of those we serve report purchasing inexpensive or unhealthy food to stretch their food budget. While seemingly necessary in the moment, these choices add up over time.
I recently attended a leadership conference through our national partner, Feeding America. They shared that an overwhelming number of those receiving food assistance across the nation report having fair or poor health and living with chronic, often diet-related, diseases including diabetes and hypertension.
In our communities here in the Ozarks, 32 percent of households served have at least one member with diabetes and 58 percent have at least one member with high blood pressure. These chronic diseases, and subsequent medical bills, are preventing families from improving their situation, since 62 percent of households report having to make the impossible choice between food and medicine or medical care.
Ozarks Food Harvest and food banks across the country are on the front lines of health and nutrition for our neighbors in need. We feel a responsibility to provide the best food we can and education about healthy eating choices. We don’t believe that a healthy lifestyle is reserved only for those with abundant resources.
Since produce is the most requested food from our pantries and those they serve, we’ve doubled down on our efforts to provide more of this fresh and nutritious product through our Retail Pick-Up and Full Circle Gardens programs, as well as working closely with our generous food donors. Today, produce amounts to 23 percent of all the food we distribute at Ozarks Food Harvest.
Many of our partner pantries and feeding sites also host cooking demonstrations and nutrition classes from the MU Extension Office.
We’re also proud to partner with CoxHealth’s Healthy Food Pantry Collaborative that strives to provide more access to healthy food, and Mercy employees who grow produce for one of our senior feeding sites.
Providing more nutritious food to those in need is possible because of you and your compassion. It takes a lot to feed a community, but thanks to you, we’re able to continue to have record-breaking distributions month after month. That support is directly helping people in need, like Linda, who recently started taking care of her grandchildren.
She shared, “I don’t know how I would feed everybody without [the pantries]. I really don’t. I am very grateful that this is provided.”
This holiday season, I hope you would consider supporting our work to address the food access and health needs of our community. Your generosity will help make the season bright for people like Linda and her grandchildren.
Happy Holidays from our family to yours.
Bart Brown is the president/CEO of Ozarks Food Harvest.