When many of us think of hunger, we tend to think of starving children with protruding stomachs living in third-world countries. Or we think of the homeless person on the street corner, holding a sign.
The reality of hunger in Arkansas is quite different. The hungriest people in our state are actually tipping the scales. That's because hunger, obesity and malnutrition are intricately connected.
The truth is that the healthiest food choices are often the most expensive. "When you shop, the first things that leave your diet when you're struggling with a budget are the meats, the dairy and the produce," said Polly Deems, the Arkansas Foodbank's outreach coordinator.
And adding to that obstacle is the reality that many low income neighborhoods don’t have full-service grocery stores where healthy food options are available – areas that are referred to as “food deserts.” Instead, families often shop for groceries at convenience stores or gas stations, or resort to eating at inexpensive fast food restaurants. One way to make sure that no one is left feeling hungry is to eat at a fast-food restaurant!
Armed with this knowledge, ithe Foodbank has been maing significant changes in the last few years in the way we operate.
"We're not just about packaged foods and canned foods anymore," Deems said.
Our community garden, which covers 10,000 square feet, produces a variety of vegetables and berries that we store in our Agency Mart's produce cooler.
Inside our warehouse is a cooler dock and freezer, which allows us to receive, store and distribute dairy products, meats and other protein-rich foods for our agencies like the Mosaic Church, which operates a food pantry every Tuesday.
"We're trying to encourage good healthy foods," said Pat Brown, a member and volunteer at Mosaic Church. She believes it is about more than alleviating hunger. "We are changing our mindset, and that, in turn, is helping to make what we're giving to them more helpful and more nutritional."
In the past seven months of this year alone, the Foodbank has increased the amount of fruits and vegetables we distribute by 67 percent - about 700,000 more pounds of food going into the homes of the people who need it.