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January 27, 2015

Close the Gap on Food Insecurity

When an individual or family is experiencing difficult circumstances, such as a job loss or a medical crisis, they may require the services of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly food stamps.

SNAP benefits provide an answer to food insecurity, which often occurs when special situations arise that eliminate or reduce income. When families must choose between paying bills and putting nutritious food on the table, applying for SNAP is an important step in addressing food insecurity.

SNAP is a federal program, but the application process is completed at the state level. The application can be confusing, and it is helpful to have someone familiar with SNAP to walk you through the process. In Northwest Missouri and Northeast Kansas, you have a great resource called Close the Gap, a program of Second Harvest Community Food Bank.

Close the Gap was created as a resource to help our neighbors access SNAP benefits. At Close the Gap, there are two trained specialists, called Food Security Coordinators that can help you work through the application process.

The 19-county region served by Second Harvest is an economically distressed area, with more than 60 percent of children qualifying for the reduced lunch rate. With so many individuals and families experiencing food insecurity, the Missouri Promoting Food Security Program provides resources for Close the Gap as a way to boost enrollment in the SNAP program.

In its first year of existence, Close the Gap enrolled 610 individuals into SNAP, resulting in over $1 million in SNAP benefits paid out to our neighbors! Not only did these individuals receive SNAP benefits, but the enrollment resulted in more than $3 million in economic benefits to the regional economy. It also provided over 774,000 meals to members.

In many of those situations, Close the Gap was able to provide assistance enrolling for SNAP benefits in a situation in which short-term problems were causing food insecurity. SNAP benefits are a great way for individuals and families to get the help they need to get them back on their feet.

Many people are impacted by food insecurity at some point during their lives. While it is difficult to ask for help, the services provided by Second Harvest through Close the Gap provide an important service. When you are hungry, it is difficult to take any of the steps that might improve your circumstances. Activities like interviewing for a job or taking care of family members are much more challenging when hunger is present.

At Second Harvest, we are committed to building hunger-free communities. If you want to find out more about Close the Gap, SNAP benefits, or what you can do to help us serve the community and eliminate food insecurity, give us a call.

Posted by Gayle Stowers - 01/27/15, 10:00 AM


January 23, 2015

Hunger in America Impacted by SNAP Cuts

When a family experiences a short-term difficulty, such as a medical crisis, divorce or loss of employment, it can result in problems making ends meet. As a way to cover the gap between bills and income, families may qualify to sign up for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps).

Over a year ago, the SNAP program was cut as a way to provide additional funding for federal school lunch program reimbursements, a move that frustrated some politicians but had devastating effects for the families that rely on SNAP benefits to put food on their tables.

The impact of SNAP cuts on hunger in America can be observed by looking at activity in the local food pantries. These pantries, like Second Harvest Community Food Bank in St. Joseph, are considered the last line of defense against hunger. When SNAP benefits are not enough, families turn to a food pantry like Second Harvest to fill in their meal gap.

There are more than 47 million Americans that rely on SNAP benefits to fill out their food budgets, and when SNAP benefits are not enough, they head to the local food bank. At Second Harvest, we see the impact that hunger in America has on our community members.

The 2014 Feeding America “Hunger in America” study found that members accessing the services of Second Harvest often have an income well below the federal poverty level, with 49 percent of members making less than $10,000 each year. An additional 23 percent have an income between $10,001 and $20,000 each year.

While SNAP benefits are at a reduced level, agencies that seek to relieve food insecurity are also feeling the pinch of economic difficulty. The Hunger in America report notes that among Second Harvest’s more than 100 Partner Agencies, there has been a significant negative economic impact. Thirty-eight percent of Partner Agencies reported having to cut back on services in the past 12 months. These cuts were in areas like operations, staff elimination or limiting the areas served.

Partner Agencies, like the families that utilize their services, struggle to weigh the benefits of offering nutritious choices versus simply having food available for members to take home. The Hunger in America report indicates that 72 percent of agencies and programs said that healthy food was too expensive to purchase and offer as an option to their members.

When food pantries have to make a decision between offering healthy food and offering any food at all, there is no healthy option left for food insecure families. Instead of consuming nutrients to fuel their bodies, these families are forced to eat whatever will fill them up and stave off hunger.

If you are concerned about the lack of healthy food available to our food insecure neighbors, consider making a donation of time, food or money to Second Harvest. We rely on the generosity of the community to provide healthy food choices to our neighbors.


Posted by Gayle Stowers - 01/23/15, 10:00 AM


January 20, 2015

Campus Cupboard Helps Fuel Students for Academic Success

In an effort to begin the school year prepared, many parents guide their children through lists of required materials: two-pocket folders, pink erasers and yellow highlighters. While these long lists of school supplies help kids get ready for the classroom, there is a critical component of learning that never shows up on a school supply list: good nutrition.

Good nutrition fuels the brain and allows learning to take place. The crucial role that nutrition plays in the learning process inspired the creation of Campus Cupboard, a program here at Second Harvest Community Food Bank.

Campus Cupboard is a food pantry located on school campuses that allows students and their families to have ready access to nutritious foods right where they go to school. The pantry is available to any enrolled student and their family members and is open during scheduled hours throughout the school year.

While there are programs like Backpack Buddies for younger students, Campus Cupboard acknowledges that hunger affects not only young children, but also older students. The pantry is stocked with healthy foods from Second Harvest, and families have access to the food on a first come, first served basis.

When students’ minds are fueled by Campus Cupboard, the effects may not be visible to the naked eye. However, each type of nutrient plays a vital role in healthy brain functions that allow cognitive processes to be completed:

Good fats: Healthy fats, like those found in olive and canola oils, fish and nuts, are an important part of fueling the brain. Polyunsaturated fats allow for flexibility in the brain’s cell membranes, promoting easy neurotransmission of messages.

Proteins: Found in high quantities in meat, fish, dairy and nuts, proteins promote the development of amino acids. Amino acids are building blocks used to form neurotransmitters in the brain and support structures for neurons. Proteins can also contribute to the development of certain hormones, like serotonin and dopamine, which can result in feelings of well-being.

Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates provide energy to the brain. While sugar can initiate a quick boost in energy, it is usually followed by a similarly quick drop in energy. To provide long-lasting energy for brain functions, it is important to consume complex carbohydrates like those found in whole grains.

Campus Cupboard allows students access to these important components of a healthy diet. Even if some students are unable to purchase their two-pocket folders or the right kind of highlighter, Campus Cupboard provides them with the most important school supply. Good nutrition is the foundation for the cognitive processes that need to take place for learning. If you are interested in opportunities to promote learning through good nutrition, consider volunteering at your local school’s Campus Cupboard. Contact Second Harvest to find out how to get started as a volunteer.

Posted by Gayle Stowers - 01/20/15, 10:00 AM


January 16, 2015

Fresh Start Helps Families Facing Hunger

Many families that experience food insecurity have an added challenge of living in an area where fresh food is not readily accessible. That is the case in the service area for Second Harvest Community Food Bank. The families served by Second Harvest often have a challenge when it comes to obtaining fresh food.

When an area has few grocery stores or a lack of infrastructure to efficiently reach grocery stores, that area is said to be a food desert. Food deserts tend to be concentrated in areas that are sparsely populated, but they can also affect more urban areas. A densely-populated city can be a food desert if grocery stores are not easily accessible by the residents.

Second Harvest provides an answer to the problem of the local food desert and families facing hunger with Fresh Start, an onsite perishable food pantry. Located on the campus of Second Harvest, it sits at the northern edge of a large food desert.

It is difficult to overstate the important role that a perishable food pantry like Fresh Start plays in promoting health and wellness among members facing hunger. Without access to fresh foods, our neighbors may not be able to consume a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy and whole grains that provide important nutrients.

In addition, when families are food insecure, a common tendency is to attempt to stretch SNAP benefits and whatever funds are available for food. As a result, resources may be used to purchase the most food possible, often resulting in purchases concentrated with processed, less-healthy foods instead of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Having access to a resource like Fresh Start allows individuals and families to obtain the foods they need to be healthy. Fresh Start stocks a wide selection of fresh produce, dairy and lean meats and whole grains that give our neighbors the ingredients they need to make healthy meals.

Second Harvest makes it easy for individuals and families to apply for use of the Fresh Start perishable food pantry. To shop there, you first obtain a Yellow Card by making an appointment with Second Harvest professional caregivers between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Fridays.

Community members with a household income below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guideline will qualify for membership. For example a family of four with an income below $46,000 may be eligible to shop at Fresh Start.

Once you have met eligibility requirements to shop at Fresh Start, check out the hours below to determine a convenient shopping time.

Fresh Start relies on time donations from our volunteers and money and food donations from local businesses to stock healthy food options for our members facing hunger. If you are interested in supporting our mission to build hunger-free communities, you can find more information on the Second Harvest website.

Fresh Start Hours:

Monday: 11:00 – 4:00

Tuesday: 12:00 – 6:00

Wednesday: 11:00 – 4:00

Thursday: 12:00 – 6:00

Friday: 8:00 – 2:00

Posted by Gayle Stowers - 01/16/15, 10:00 AM


January 13, 2015

The Link Between Learning and Child Hunger in America

When children experience food insecurity, they usually do not experience only hunger. It often may be paired with inadequate housing, insufficient healthcare and weakened community and family support. When you see a child that is struggling with hunger, it may mean that there are additional problems that present a multi-faceted challenge.

A study from the Tufts University Center on Hunger, Poverty and Nutrition Policy demonstrates that the effects of child hunger in America also reach out to touch other areas of a child’s life, and most notably, their cognitive development.

The study shows that there is a link between nutrition and cognitive development, providing evidence that the brain’s ability to develop can be negatively impacted when adequate nutrition is not available. The key findings from the study include:

  • A child not getting enough to eat on a regular basis can delay brain development and the child’s ability to learn. The longer food insecurity continues, the greater chance of cognitive delays.
  • Low levels of iron, which is detected in nearly a quarter of low-income children and is a key concern with child hunger in America, is linked with impaired cognitive development.
  • Low-income children that come to school hungry have lower scores on standardized tests than low-income children that arrive at school well-fed.
  • When nutrition is improved, the effects of food insecurity can be treated.

When a child is food insecure, the body naturally prioritizes the small amounts of food and how it will be used to fuel the functions of the body. Energy from food is first applied to the maintenance of organs like the heart and lungs, followed by use for growth. Social activity and learning are the last place that energy from food is applied, so children that do not have adequate access to healthy foods may experience social and learning delays.

It is no secret that children that are receiving enough food to fuel not only their organs and their growth, but also fuel their learning, will lead a more productive life. They will be higher-achieving in school and will be able to expend energy toward learning about how to make good choices and have positive social interactions. In short, children that are well-nourished will be healthier, happier and more able to contribute to a healthy society.

Child hunger in America does not happen in isolation. These children may not only have cognitive delays because of food insecurity, but they may also have untreated health problems or parents that are under high levels of stress from job insecurity.

Second Harvest Community Food Bank provides a variety of programs that serve food insecure children in our area and help to combat child hunger in America. One in five children in our service area is food insecure. Through Backpack Buddies, the No Hunger Summer, Fresh Start perishable food pantry, Kids’ Café and programs available through our Partner Agencies, we help connect kids with nutritious foods that promote cognitive growth and a bright future.

If you would like to join our mission to build hunger-free communities, consider making a donation of time, money or food. We rely on the generosity of our neighbors to provide food resources to the children in our service area.

Posted by Gayle Stowers - 01/13/15, 10:00 AM


January 09, 2015

Beverages Play an Important Role in Nutrition

When thinking about nutrition, you may focus only on the food that you eat. It’s important to think carefully about the choices you make to balance protein, carbohydrates and fats. It’s also important to get the most nutritional impact for your calories, with the best choices packing the most nutrients into each calorie.

However, it is also beneficial to carefully choose your beverages to balance your nutrition. It can be easy to drink sugar all day in the form of coffee sweeteners, soda and energy drinks. Many who strive for nutritional choices in foods often forget about the nutrition that is contributed through beverage consumption.

This can be especially critical if you are a family that receives Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) benefits. You may have limited resources to choose foods and beverages that are nutritious, and you may feel pressured to make every calorie count toward good health. Here are a few reasons why you can think of your beverages as a way to get good nutrition, too:

Beverages Help You Manage Your Energy Balance
When your body has an adequate supply of the nutrients it needs while you also manage your calorie intake, you are maintaining a healthy weight with your energy balance. Think about not only foods, but beverages as being part of your energy balance.

Beverages Supply Essential Nutrients
This is not true of all beverages, of course. Avoid soda, sweetened teas and other soft drinks because they will not supply a good balance of nutrients for the calories you consume. Instead, consider the nutrients you supply to your body with milk, 100 percent fruit and vegetable juices and soy-based beverages.

These choices provide your body with important nutrients you need for good health. Fruit and vegetable juices that are 100 percent juice can fuel your body with vitamin C, folate and potassium. Watch out for juice that does not say “100 percent juice” on the label. They are often loaded with sugar or artificial flavors meant to imitate real juice.

Milk and soy-based beverages can be an important source of calcium and protein. These nutrients strengthen bones and muscles and can help stave off hunger.

Make Water Your Sidekick
Whether going out or staying in, keep a tall glass of water nearby. It can aid in digestion, keep you hydrated and keep your body humming. It can be easy to load up on calories with many beverages, even if you stick to healthy choices like juice or milk. To keep calorie consumption in check, make juice and milk part of your daily choices, but make water the bulk of your beverage consumption. It will make you feel great.

At Second Harvest Community Food Bank, we help individuals and families make the most of their resources with healthy beverage choices. Give us a call today to see how we can help your family access the resources you need to put nutritious choices on your table.

Posted by Gayle Stowers - 01/09/15, 10:00 AM


January 06, 2015

Teaching Your Children the Value of Giving and Help us in Our Mission of Nourishing Families

When thinking about which qualities they would most like their children to possess by the time they reach adulthood, most parents would include “generous” and “compassionate.”

However, many parents are not sure how to incorporate teaching the importance of these traits into daily life It can be hard, in the midst of soccer practice, brushing teeth and homework checking to know whether kids are developing the traits you want them to have. If you are one of these parents that are looking for ways to fit in lessons in compassion and generosity, here are some thoughts that may help get you started:

Kids learn giving by participating in giving. If you want kids who focus on giving resources and time, be parents that focus on giving resources and time. The patterns of giving that children learn as they are growing up tend to shape their attitudes toward the same as adults.

Nourishing families with giving doesn’t have to be complicated.  Make a meal together for a family that just had a baby. Participate in a local food drive, allowing your children to help decide which foods to buy or contribute part of their allowance toward the purchase of some nourishing foods.

Learn giving together. Call your local food bank and set up a time for you and your children to work together for a couple of hours. You may help sort food, stock shelves or simply sweep the floor. At Second Harvest Community Food Bank, we offer many ways for you to participate in nourishing families. You can volunteer at Fresh Start, our perishable food pantry, or one of our Partner Agencies across our 19-county service area.

For young children, immediacy is important. When looking for opportunities to teach young children generosity, think of immediate ways to give. If you see a food collection barrel at your grocery store, point it out to your child and then ask if they would like to help you choose some items for the barrel. This is an easy to way to introduce the ways that communities can work together for nourishing families.

Make monetary donations a family decision. Instead of privately writing a check to your charity of choice, consider getting your children involved in the decision. There may be a cause they are drawn to or it may introduce a discussion between siblings about how to prioritize giving opportunities.

If you have older children that get an allowance, you can make a monetary donation a significant focus of family life. You can set goals for giving and chart them on a bright poster in your kitchen. Your kids may have creative ideas for raising money, like setting up a yard sale or a lemonade stand. Once they know that there are families that need their help, they may be willing to part with some treasured possessions to raise money.

Call Second Harvest today to find out how you and your family can plug into one of our programs to work together. You’ll join our mission of nourishing families and build important values in your own family, too!

Posted by Gayle Stowers - 01/06/15, 10:00 AM


January 02, 2015

Becoming a Soup Kitchen Volunteer

During the holidays, you may spend extra time thinking about food. Whether it’s deciding what to bake for a cookie exchange, a dish to bring to a party, what to serve at your own gathering or what to serve for New Year’s Day, these decisions may dominate your grocery lists. You may carefully craft a menu or thoughtfully choose a side dish for a potluck, dedicating more time than usual to choose the perfect food.

However, for many Americans, there are no decisions to make about food. There is simply hope that there will be food, somehow. The food insecure could be your coworkers, your neighbors and your kids’ classmates, and they may be looking for ways to obtain the food they need. If you want a way to help your neighbors in a very tangible way, consider becoming a soup kitchen volunteer.

Here are some considerations to be mindful of when you decide to become a soup kitchen volunteer:

Start by choosing a facility. If you aren’t aware of a soup kitchen in your neighborhood, check in with a local agency, church or school to find the nearest service opportunity. Even if there is not a soup kitchen regularly offering food, there may be a church or other organization putting together meals at various times throughout the year.

Talk with the volunteer coordinator. When you contact the soup kitchen, ask the volunteer coordinator what the process is for becoming a soup kitchen volunteer. You may be required to attend an orientation or fill out a background check form. Ask the coordinator about one-time volunteer opportunities versus ongoing help. Keep in mind that many people volunteer during the holidays, but soup kitchen volunteers are needed all year round.

Consider all the positions at the soup kitchen. If your cooking often ends in disaster, don’t shy away from becoming a soup kitchen volunteer. Many volunteers are needed for jobs that don’t involve cooking. You may be called on to serve food, clean up or stand by a door to greet visitors.

Think about how to support the local soup kitchen. Volunteering at the soup kitchen is a great way to spend your time, but there is even more that you can do. Consider launching a food drive at work to stock the shelves of the soup kitchen, or organize a group to go in for a day of deep cleaning in the kitchen or pantry.

Put forth your best effort. Treat this obligation as you would a paying job that comes with regular reviews. Be on time, conduct yourself with the professional standards you would apply in any job and strive to be there for every scheduled shift. The organization relies on volunteers to help neighbors struggling with hunger so you want to be a volunteer that can be counted on for help.

Second Harvest Community Food Bank relies on soup kitchen volunteers to serve our neighbors. Please give us a call today to find out how to become an important part of our mission to build hunger-free communities!

Posted by Gayle Stowers - 01/02/15, 10:00 AM


December 30, 2014

SNAP Program May Boost Fruit and Vegetable Consumption

Many of your food neighbors struggling with hunger rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps) to purchase adequate food for their families. In many cases, individuals use the SNAP program because they are experiencing circumstances that make it difficult to make ends meet, such as temporary unemployment or a medical crisis.

However, the public perception of the SNAP program can put a stigma on the program. A new program is being introduced that may answer critics as well as boost the nutritional value of foods eaten through the use of SNAP.

The Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive, or FINI, is a new program introduced as part of the 2014 Farm Bill. The initiative was designed to add benefits to the SNAP program as a way to improve nutritious eating among low-income Americans.

The FINI program will help fund local programs, such as Double Up Food Bucks, which provides matching funds for individuals using SNAP to purchase fresh produce.

While the funding for FINI does increase costs associated with SNAP, many argue that the initiative will have long-lasting financial and health benefits.

The financial impact is significant, with the program expected to reduce the cost of cardiovascular healthcare by $17 billion by helping low-income Americans follow federal dietary recommendations. In many situations, those receiving SNAP may only enjoy fresh produce at the beginning of the month when their benefits are received. As the month runs on and money runs out, they may struggle to put healthy choices on the table.

Experts estimate that 13.5 million low income Americans live in what is called a “food desert,” where fresh food is difficult to obtain. These areas may be urban or rural, but are often concentrated in areas where adequate transportation is unavailable due to a lack of public transportation or highways to grocery stores.

These areas are often populated with farmer’s markets, so the FINI program may be a way to help not only low-income families, but also local farmers. The concept of providing an incentive for SNAP recipients to buy local produce began several years ago, when a New York City program offered recipients an extra two dollars for buying produce if they spent five dollars at a farmer’s market. The idea grew, spreading to neighboring cities and across the United States.

Along with this has come a push by the USDA to license farmer’s markets to accept SNAP benefits, making the program useful to both recipients and to the local farmers that can provide nutritious options.

The FINI program is one small step to help low-income families have access to the foods they need to make healthy choices. Visit Second Harvest Community Food Bank to find out more about efforts to provide our neighbors with fresh fruit and vegetables.

Posted by Gayle Stowers - 12/30/14, 10:00 AM