My Turn: Crisis of Hunger: A Call to Action across the country and in the Verde Valley

Feeding America, the nation's largest domestic hunger-relief organization, just released Hunger in America 2010, the largest study of domestic hunger, providing comprehensive and statistically valid data on our emergency food distribution system and the people Feeding America serves. The study is extremely detailed, drawing on data from more than 61,000 interviews with clients and surveys of 37,000 feeding agencies.

The report shows that hunger is increasing at an alarming rate in the United States. Overall, Feeding America is annually providing food to 37 million Americans, including 14 million children. This is an increase of 46 percent over 2006, when the organization was feeding 25 million Americans, including 9 million children, each year.

The report details that there are 888,100 unduplicated Arizonans, almost half of them children under the age of 18, received emergency food in 2009. This represents a stunning 85 percent increase over the previous 2006 study. A staggering 74 percent of those households live below the federal poverty level, which is $22,050 annually for a family of four.

The Verde Food Council formed in February of 2009 as a collaborative effort to address the dramatically increasing lines of our neighbors in Verde Valley food banks and pantries. The mission of the Verde Food Council is "to build community support for our food banks, increase their capacity for service, and be a voice to the hungry." A 2006 American Community Survey for the state of Arizona revealed that in Yavapai County, 14,073 persons receive food stamps and 8, 347 children live below 100 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.

Hunger, or food insecurity, is not an isolated issue and affects our most vulnerable populations, children and the elderly. Poor nutrition in children can result in sup optimal performance in school, delayed physical and mental development. Our senior neighbors, many of whom are on fixed incomes, are forced to choose between rent or food, medication or food. It is a choice that no one should have to face, especially in their "golden years." In general, being food insecure or hungry can lead to feelings of shame, isolation, depression, and generally poorer health and socioeconomic outcomes.

Despite this adversity, there is hope. You are that hope. Find out how you can help at one of the local Verde Valley food banks. You can donate your time, donate food, or donate funds. No donation is too small. As a community, we can conquer hunger in the Verde Valley so that everybody has enough to eat.

A summary of Arizona findings is available at www.azfoodbanks.org. The full national report is available at www.feedingamerica.org.

Natalia Molina McKendry, MPH, is a resident of Sedona.

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