Hunger is problem even on peninsula, but you can help

Posted: Thursday, June 03, 2004

It's hard to escape the irony. Obesity currently is one of the biggest health problems in the United States. At the same time, all over the country, including the Kenai Peninsula, people are going to bed hungry.

The fact is hunger and obesity often are the flip sides of the same coin.

The experts at America's Second Harvest, the largest domestic hunger-relief organization in the United States, explain it this way: "In many areas of the U.S., produce and other healthy foods are particularly expensive. When a family is living on a tight budget, junk food ("filler food") or fast food is usually easier and cheaper to buy than nutritious food. Some of the poorest children are also overweight; eating junk food is a way to fill up and, unfortunately, also put on empty pounds. This means that many poor people who look overfed are actually malnourished."

Still, it's hard to grasp the concept that there are hungry people in one of the world's wealthiest nations. Who are they? Why are they hungry? Wouldn't a job be the answer to all their problems?

First, many of the hungry in the United States do have jobs. In fact, America's Second Harvest says almost half the people it serves live in households with at least one working adult. However, their wages are so low, they cannot cover the cost of housing, medical care, utilities, transportation, fuel and food the normal expenses of life. Of the 23 million people the agency serves every year, 9 million are children under the age of 18. The need of the children is even greater in the summer because they can no longer depend on getting a nutritious meal through the school lunch and breakfast programs.

Second, as much as we want to believe it, it is a myth that if people just work hard enough and play by the rules they will be able to succeed. Many millions of Americans are working hard in multiple low-wage jobs and are still unable to make ends meet, much less get ahead. The result is what many call "food insecurity" in other words, these millions of Americans don't know where there next meal is coming from.

Some of these millions live on the Kenai Peninsula. Their need can be seen in numbers from the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, where during the first quarter of the year, demand in the soup kitchen is up 7 percent and demand in the federal commodities program, which enhances some of the basic food essentials once a month for those who qualify, is up 16 percent. In 2003, the food bank distributed a total of 566,436 pounds of food to peninsula residents. In April alone, it served almost 2,000 bowls of soup in its soup kitchen.

Our hope is that this information will prompt readers to ask: What can I do to help? The answer is: plenty.

First, today, as part of Hunger Awareness Day, several restaurants are making donations to help support the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank. In Kenai, participating restaurants include Arby's, Burger Bus, Charlotte's, Good Books & More, Little Ski-Mos, Paradisos Restaurant, Veronica's and Wings. In Soldotna, participating restaurants include Charlotte's at River City Books, Coffee Concepts, Froso's, Jersey Subs, Kaladi Brothers, Mykel's, Riverside House and Arby's. In Nikiski, Blue Grouse Drive-In and Ohana's are participating; in Kasilof, Jersey Subs; and in Homer, Arby's. You can help by visiting one of those restaurants today.

Or, you can visit the soup kitchen today or any other weekday have lunch and make a donation if you are able. Today elected officials will be serving. Scheduled to participate are Rep. Mike Chenault; Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley; Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Betty Glick; Kenai Peninsula Borough school board member Sammy Crawford; Kenai Mayor John Williams; Kenai City Council members Joe Moore, Pat Porter and Linda Swarner, who also is the food bank's executive director; and Soldotna City Council member Lisa Parker. The soup kitchen is open from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. It's located off Kalifornsky Beach Road at 33955 Community College Drive.

Your donation of money, time or food also can be put to good use. When considering a donation, please consider this: A donation of 99 cents can buy 11 pounds of food from the Food Bank of Alaska to serve hungry residents on the peninsula.

Most of us think nothing of spending $3 on a fancy cup of coffee or $1 here and $1 there for junk food. Forgoing just one cup of coffee one day a week and a dollar's worth of junk food a week for a year and donating that $4 weekly to the food bank could result in an annual donation of $208 which could buy more than 2,288 pounds of food.

Erasing hunger seems like a big job, but all of us can make a difference in the lives of our neighbors little by little. It starts by being aware that there's a problem.

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