Eating tonight, much less tomorrow, is a worry for about 2,000 Allen County residents.
Their pantries are empty. The larder is bare.
That reality came home Thursday night when many shared their stories at a symposium about hunger and food insecurity.
One man recalled his attempt to pay for 80 cents worth of food with pennies — all he could find — but the store refused because the pennies weren’t contained in a roll. At the time he was a new teacher struggling to make ends meet. He also shared stories of students who went hungry because their families didn’t provide adequate food, like a boy who had to give up band and sold his trombone for $5 to buy food.
The panel was organized by Kansas Appleseed, Allen County Thrive, Humanity House Foundation and Great Plains UMC. Members of local civic groups and faith leaders spoke about their efforts to help, and others chimed in with their experiences and concerns.
Joey Hentzler, with Kansas Appleseed, defined food insecurity as not knowing where your next meal is coming from.
“The pantry is empty, you don’t have money for groceries, your car is broken so you can’t get to the grocery store, or maybe there’s no grocery store in town,” he said.
Feeding America estimates 710 kids are hungry in Allen County right now and about 15.5 percent of all county residents are hungry, Hentzler said.
A woman who attended said her family qualified for food stamps for a short time “and it was wonderful.” The stipend allowed them to obtain high quality food products for healthy meals and snacks. But once the family’s income inched up a tad they no longer qualified and were once again forced to make due with inferior choices.
“There needs to be some kind of transition,” she said.
A man who has a 4-year-old son and recently lost his job said he couldn’t find work despite his best efforts. Without help from local agencies and churches, he would have been homeless a month ago. He still worries it may happen.
“I don’t know what you got to do to get a job in this town. They say there’s work here. Show me,” he said.
At least two women talked of problems affording daycare. A single parent without income can receive assistance from a variety of programs that allow her to stay home to care for a child; if she gets a job, even with a modest income, she’s likely to lose those benefits and will struggle to pay someone else to take care of her child while she works.
Damaris Kunkler, who works at Thrive, shared her story as a young, single mother struggling to take care of her children and improve her life. She was homeless when she finally — and ironically — got a job at a homeless transition shelter, with an annual salary of about $18,000 a year. A small pay raise jeopardized the assistance she received and she nearly lost her home, help paying for daycare and food stamps.
“The system is broken,” she said. “I’ve been crawling for 10 years. I have been in situations where I had no food for my children, and it wasn’t that long ago.”
THE PANEL discussed some of the factors that contribute to hunger:
– Lack of grocery stores.
– Lack of jobs that pay a living wage.
– High housing costs, including rent and utilities.
– Lack of education on how to properly prepare a healthy meal.
– Lack of proper cooking equipment.
The agency representatives said efforts are underway to address those concerns. Some programs offer cooking classes or provide recipes and education along with food commodity distributions. Community leaders in Moran are fighting to save the town’s grocery store. Humanity House collects and offers donations not only of food but also equipment like pots, pans, cooking utensils and microwaves.
Members of the panel also encouraged people to vote and provided federal forms for voter registration. They also asked people to fill out postcards to urge local legislators to support lowering Kansas’ food sales tax of 6.5 percent, which is second highest in the nation.
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