Most coffee shop chatter in our community revolves around oil, agriculture, economics and politics. Very rarely, if ever, do you hear a discussion about hunger. So rarely do you hear that conversation, that some might think the issue doesn’t exist in our community.
The facts say otherwise.
- In 2011, one in five children in Greater Bismarck-Mandan was receiving SNAP benefits (ND Kids Count Data Center).
- Twenty-six percent of local children rely on free and reduced-price lunch through the National School Lunch Program to help meet their nutritional needs (ND Kids Count Data Center).
- North Dakota ranks 41 out of 50 in providing summer food services to children who receive free and reduced-price lunches (Children Defense Fund).
- In 2012, one in ten children in Burleigh and Morton live in poverty (ND Kids Count Data Center).
Beyond the data, we’re hearing the same needs expressed from our partners, but it’s not all bad news. With the support of many, we’ve been able to take some exciting steps:
This past school year, the United Way Women’s Leadership Circle initiated the United Way Backpack Program after hearing from local educators that a growing number of students were arriving at school hungry and unprepared. Since, nearly 30,000 meals have been sent home with more than 400 students on weekends to prevent hunger when the School Lunch Program isn’t available. Six of whom were members of a two-family household crammed into one small trailer in Mandan. Thanks to the program these children have one less hurdle.
A few months back, we highlighted the Wilton Food Pantry. They opened this past fall to meet an increasing presence of hunger and poverty in surrounding rural communities. The pantry is now providing monthly food baskets to 30 families. With the added resources, one family who had been camping has been able to move into permanent housing. They’re so grateful for the food they receive that they’ve begun helping out by sorting donations.
Just this past month, after discovering that only one other agency was providing a daily public meal and that it was experiencing high demand, we began supplementing the Summer Food Service Program – a free daily lunch provided in local parks by the Great Plains Food Bank – to provide meals to adults.
At United Way, we don’t think it’s OK for people in our community to go hungry. We also know that meeting needs is not an answer to the problem. Our goal is not to feed people. Our goal is to end hunger. Hunger is complex, interconnected issue affecting a diverse spectrum of people for countless reasons.
So how do you solve hunger?
By creating strong communities and focusing on the building blocks of a quality life – education, income and health. In 2014, United Way has launched three exciting initiatives in these three key areas. Our Education Initiative is removing barriers that prevent students from succeeding in education, ultimately providing opportunities to escape generational poverty. Our Income Initiative is building job skills and creating bridges to self-sufficiency. Our Health Initiative is creating a healthier, vibrant Bismarck-Mandan area. These larger efforts involve organizations and individuals from all sectors of the community working together to create solutions.
So next time you need a conversation point, support our effort to end hunger by striking a conversation about some of the exciting work happening in our community.