Sunday, February 14, 2010

National Study On Hunger Underscores Magnitude Of Harvesters’ Task

Hunger In America 2010 

A new national report, Hunger In America 2010, reveals an alarming increase in need for emergency food assistance. In the Kansas City area, the most important resource for that assistance is Harvesters Community Food Network. 

The name Harvesters is well known to most folks in our area. Their familiar food donation barrels and numerous cooperative programs have made the food assistance network a household word. Harvesters is by far the most utilized, and sometimes the only, source of food for area food pantries and kitchens. But behind the image is an impressive large-scale effort to collect, distribute, and utilize contributions to the emergency food program from a wide array of sources. 

Harvesters Super Bowl Week Of Caring
The new study released last week makes a dramatic case for such emergency food relief in our area, and the importance of increasing community support for the regional food bank. Hunger in America 2010 studied 185 food banks like Harvesters, conducted 61,000 face-to-face interviews, and surveyed more than 37,000 individual relief agencies. According to the study, Harvesters provides 73 percent of the food distributed by regional food pantries, 53 percent of food served at soup kitchens, and 35 percent of food provided at emergency shelters.

The Hunger in America survey quantifies the severity of increasing need with some compelling statistics. Covering 26 counties across northwestern Missouri and northeastern Kansas, the new study reveals that a staggering 295,200 different people have received emergency food assistance each year through agencies served by Harvesters. “As a result of the most severe economic recession since the Great Depression and the highest unemployment rates since World War II, more people than ever are seeking emergency food assistance,” said Karen Haren, Harvesters’ president and CEO. “In 2009, we distributed 36.6 million pounds of food, which is 30 percent more than at any time in our 30-year history.” 

Links to the report’s key findings, as well as the full report in both local and national versions can be found at the Harvesters Hunger In America 2010 web page.

Startling Statistics:
Consider these disturbing study results released by Harvesters last week in the key study findings for Kansas City and the surrounding region:
  • 37 percent of all members of households served in 2009 are children (up to 109,224 children overall).
  • 45 percent of these children come from single-parent households.
  • 39 percent of households have at least one adult who is working. Yet nearly three quarters (73 percent) have incomes at or below poverty level.
  • 74 percent of food pantries and 82 percent of kitchens report an increase in need at their facilities since 2005.
  • 25 percent of households have at least one member in poor health, thirty-one percent have no health insurance, and fifty-three percent have unpaid medical bills.
The study compared Harvesters food recipients to the U.S. government’s official food security scale. According to the USDA, Missouri ranks sixth nationally in food insecurity, and Kansas, eighth.
  • 78 percent of households with children are considered “food insecure” and 34 percent are classified as having “very low food security.” In other words, there are a lot of children out there who would go hungry without the benefit of the Harvesters Network.
  • Seniors are also at risk of going hungry, with 76 percent of recipient households with seniors classified as “food insecure”.
Working Families Also At Risk
Hunger threatens the employed as well as unemployed: “When people lose jobs, have a sudden illness or simply need a car repair, it can be devastating to a family,” said Haren.

Many families receiving emergency food aid are working families who cannot make ends meet, even to the point of having to make highly stressful decisions about the basic necessities of life. The study found that among those receiving food assistance, 48  percent have been forced to choose between paying for food, or for utilities for light or heat. 42 percent have faced decisions on paying for food vs. rent or mortgage payments, and 30 percent between food and medical care or medicine. In spite of every effort to provide for their households, these family incomes are often insufficient to meet even basic needs.

One way to relate graphically to the economic hardships faced by many low income working families is to go to the Harvesters Family Budget Calculator  and run a few examples for yourself. You can calculate a household budget for number of children, basic expenses, number of working members, and specific jobs, to see just how easily a family can find themselves faced with an inability to provide basic needs.

“Hunger in America 2010 not only corroborates what other studies have been saying about the increasing need, it also tells us about who is seeking emergency food assistance in our community,” Haren said. “It shows us the face of hunger."

Efficiency Is The Key
Harvesters is driven by three primary elements.
  • Donations of food  These come from a diverse set of resources which include everyone from individuals to organized food drives to major corporations.
  • Donations of money Cash contributions come from individual, group, and corporate contributions as well as proceeds from various events hosted by or benefiting Harvesters. Every dollar translates into five meals served, an amazingly productive use of funds.
  • Donations of Time Volunteer work for Harvesters ranges from individuals working to sort food and household goods, to professionals donating services, to community outreach and team-building efforts. 
More Super Bowl Volunteers At Work
It's the volunteer element that strikes us as being the least familiar element of Harvesters to the average person. But it’s the glue which makes it all work. We’re all familiar with the many programs and collections efforts we find at so many locations, but the items collected then require prompt and efficient handling, which is a labor intensive process. 

Ellen Feldhausen, Harvesters’ Director of Communications, tells us that the work done by volunteers represents the equivalent work of 52 full time paid employees. This represents more than half the paid staff workforce of Harvesters. 

The distribution of 36 million pounds of food annually is therefore heavily dependent upon the volunteers. We believe it’s particularly important to raise awareness of their need for volunteer assistance and the ways that people from all walks of life can get involved.

It's A Family Affair!
The agency creates programs to make volunteering fun and relevant for social, faith-based, and civic groups of all sizes ranging from large churches to groups of friends. For example, in their recent “Super Bowl Week Of Caring” program, they not only encouraged Super Bowl parties to collect donations, but also encouraged groups to donate time at their facility. Ms. Feldhausen tells us that 2200 volunteers participated in the program this year.

It’s not just the volume of donated goods, but also the nature of the goods which requires the prompt attention of a volunteer intensive workforce. There is a huge ever-changing diversity in both the quantities and variety of non-perishables received by the agency for distribution. While the common impression of Harvesters may be as a distributor of canned and non-perishable foods, the fact is that they also distribute fresh produce. Harvesters also collects and distributes personal hygiene products and cleaning supplies.

The donations received from individuals through their various donation campaigns and familiar Harvesters barrels usually represent a completely random assortment, and these must be organized and stored accordingly. Then there are donations from local grocers and wholesalers of quantities items, as well as foods purchased at a discount using donated funds.

Perishable foods include donations from local wholesalers and grocers, and prepared foods which would otherwise be discarded, and there are other less obvious and very interesting sources of fresh fruits and vegetables.

For example, a fascinating group called Society of Saint Andrew has been working for 30 years to save agricultural produce that would otherwise go to waste. The organization collects produce which would otherwise be lost and funnels it into food relief agencies. They do this in large part by gleaning fields after harvest, where there is usually some useful food remaining after farmers have collected their yields. They also gather foods which may not be considered suitable for market, but which are still fresh and nutritious. Since much of their work is done in fields and rural areas, they compliment the work done by Harvesters by working in areas beyond the scope of local recruiting and collection.

In 2008, they opened a regional headquarters, Society Of St. Andrew West, which is housed in the Harvesters facility. According to the SOSA-West website, they made over 5 million pounds of produce available to Harvesters in their first year of regional operations.

Another fun, popular, and environmentally positive source of produce for Harvesters is their “Plant A Row” program, developed by the Garden Writers Association of America. Gardeners are encouraged to plant an extra row in their gardens for Harvesters, and a number of local garden centers and nurseries serve as collection points for the donations. Click here for more information and a list of participating businesses.
More Volunteers

Fast and efficient processing is necessary to keep up with the pressing demand, and to insure that the perishable donations are distributed in a timely manner. Volunteer work is the major force behind Harvesters’ ability to manage and distribute this vast variety of donated food items, and effectively match these donations to the needs of the dozens of regional food pantries served by the organization. Without volunteers, the high cost of labor and professional work would severely impair the agency’s efforts.

Perhaps as you read this you're thinking you might like to volunteer one of these days. Well, there's no time like the present to jump in and help. Maybe you have some particular expertise which might be helpful, and if so, don't hesitate to get in touch with them and let them know what you have to offer. The range of volunteer needs offers something for everyone. Why not take a look at the opportunities right now? Here's a link to the Harvesters web page, "Many Ways To Volunteer." 

What's Happening Now At Harvesters?
This article would not be complete without mentioning Harvesters’ current programs to encourage both donations and service. We're challenging readers of this blog to pick at least one of them and get involved. Here’s a quick rundown of some of them with links to each specific promotion:
In conjunction with the hit NBC show The Biggest Loser, people are asked to go to a website and make a pledge to lose up to 50 pounds. For each pound pledged, General Mills donates 14 cents to Harvesters through Feeding America. You can even create your own Challenge team!

Harvesters has a history of working with local restaurants. The recent Restaurant Week event was a great success. Next comes one of the most popular events in support of Harvesters, the 14th annual Forks And Corks. April 29, 2010 in the Grand Ballroom of the Kansas City Convention Center. This food and wine event features samplings of signature dishes, fine wines, and beverages offered by local restaurants and beverage companies. Proceeds from the event allow Harvesters to provide over one million meals annually to hungry families.

This is a program for kids sponsored by the Kansas City St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee which gets participating schools involved in collecting food donations. Here’s a link to a page with sign-up information  and a list of participating schools. 

We hope you'll agree that Harvesters provides one of the most important community services in the region, especially during these difficult financial times. We'll post Harvesters event updates from time to time, so keep watching this blog. And just follow the links we've provided above you have food, time, or a cash donation you'd like to contribute. Even a spare afternoon or a couple of hours can become a productive and fulfilling contribution to this very important effort.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Let me know what you say to that!