When I heard the words “food insecurity,” I pictured the face of someone in a developing country. That imagery changed this summer when I and 17 other college interns were presented with a unique opportunity: What would you propose FCSAmerica do to address food insecurity?
Our work began by researching what food insecurity really looks like, including in our communities. In Nebraska, for example, food insecurity is a reality for 13.4 percent of the population, the highest rate in FCSAmerica’s four-state territory. Children are the most negatively impacted, with one in five unsure of where their next meal will come from. Of the 72,370 Douglas County, Neb., residents who are classified as food insecure, more than 26,000 of them are children.
Interns talking about their summer project.
Over the next several weeks, we learned what FCSAmerica already does to combat food insecurity. In 2013, FCSAmerica contributed more than $67,000 – or the equivalent of about 201,000 meals -- to local food banks and organizations in Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming. We also looked at how others, including farmers, help feed the food insecure in their communities. Then, working in teams, we began exploring ways to bridge America’s agricultural bounty and the scarcity of food for some segments of the population.
Several interns had past experiences that helped shape their understanding of the problem and possible solutions. Miriam Rinehart’s family already partners with Iowa’s “Plant a Mile” program to feed the food insecure. “My experiences have been very helpful in understanding the mission of the project and how it may relate to the goals of Farm Credit Services of America,” Miriam said.
All of us were able to get a better look at food insecurity through 124 combined hours of community service as part of FCSAmerica’s TeamUp volunteer program. At the Foodbank for the Heartland, we spent 92 hours packing meals for kids’ backpacks and sorting food donations for distribution, and were later surprised to learn that our volunteer hours helped to provide 2,674 meals to kids. FCSAmerica matched those volunteer hours with a donation that equated to 4,500 additional meals.
Our work culminated in presentations to FCSAmerica’s executive leadership team and other employees. While intern teams took various approaches, the overarching theme for each was healthy and sustainable options for the food insecure. We thought big – literally – with pitches to build greenhouses close to food insecure populations or land purchases for community gardens to expand their production capability. But we also thought about how we, as individuals, could make a difference, recognizing that the more of us who act, the greater our impact. I was struck by microloans, and how a contribution of a mere $25 could positively impact the life of a farmer in a country like Armenia. Other interns pledged to set aside a monthly donation to a food bank, reduce the food waste in their lives, spread awareness and get involved in school breakfast or budgeting programs.
Whether it’s volunteering at a food pantry or donating to a local organization, every act of charity yields positive impacts for those who are food insecure.