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What is being done about hunger in our community?

This Sunday, Oct. 16, is World Food Day.

In 1979, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization established World Food Day. I recently read some interesting statistics on hunger that I would like to share.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that 1.02 billion people in the world are suffering from undernourishment. That number represents a considerable increase from 2006, when about 873 million were undernourished.

The number of people enduring hunger today represents about one-sixth of the global population. More than half (642 million) live in Asia and the Pacific, and more than a quarter (265 million) are in the sub-Saharan Africa. FAO estimates that 15 million undernourished people are living in developed countries.

In the United States, hunger is often less severe than the clinical malnutrition found in developing countries. Although starvation is rare given the availability of federal assistance, millions of Americans face what the government calls “food insecurity” — disruptions in eating patterns and reduced food intake due to adverse economic conditions.

During 2008, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 14.6 percent of U.S. households experienced food insecurity, a substantial increase from 11.1 percent in 2007. The prevalence of food insecurity was particularly high among African American (25.7 percent) and Hispanic (26.9 percent) households.

The Food Stamp Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in 2008. More than 40 million people in the United States (one in eight) received help from SNAP in March 2010 — seven million more than in March 2009. A recent study in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine found that 50 percent of U.S. children will live in households that receive support from SNAP before they reach age 20.

I see hungry people in Pagosa, in the wealthiest country on earth. Everyone more or less knows that poverty is grinding and depressing. So, what is being done in our community?

There are many people volunteering and putting effort into extending a helping hand. A number of our local churches have food banks that provide groceries to those in need. Loaves and Fishes, through an extensive network of volunteers and cooks serves a hot lunch every Thursday at the Parish Hall. On an average, about 275 meals are served each Thursday. This includes food delivered to shut-ins by a group of hardy volunteers who drive all over the county to deliver the food.

When I spoke with Joanne Irons, founder and director of Pagosa Springs Youth Center, I found out that her outreach feeds the students (ages 12-19) a meal every day after school. She serves around 150 students per week with food that is donated and supplemented with some of their scarce financial resources.

“We are all about building a relationship with the youth through a warming of their heart and stomach,” said Joanne.

The Rotary Club of Pagosa Springs, working with Pagosa Springs Elementary School, is initiating a pilot project to supplement food available over the weekends to a portion of the third grade students during this school year.

It doesn’t cost much to extend kindness to those less fortunate.

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