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Panelists Say Hunger is Spreading in Connecticut; Solution Requires Wider Perspective

by Ellen R. Delisio | Dec 6, 2013 6:30am
(10) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Agriculture, Nonprofits, Poverty

ellen r. delisio photo

Gloria McAdam, chief executive of Foodshare, warned that foodbanks cannot fill the need caused by cuts to the federal SNAP program.

A widespread paradigm shift in how hunger is acknowledged, viewed, and addressed is needed as a long-term solution to the increasing number of people who are hungry or otherwise food-insecure.

“We’re trying to move people away from the idea that emergency food is the answer,” said Lucy P. Nolan, executive director of End Hunger Connecticut! at the group’s first symposium — “Rich State, Empty Plates” — Thursday at Middlesex Community College. “We’re looking at wages and how hunger impacts health, education and the achievement gap.”

About 175 people attended the symposium, which included presentations and the chance for small-group brain-storming sessions on policy options and activities to address issues that compound hunger and that hunger exacerbates. The symposium was aimed at lawmakers and agencies that work with low-income people.

Despite Connecticut’s ranking as the second wealthiest state in the nation, the number of hungry individuals and families continues to grow. Connecticut has the fifth highest rate of child poverty in the U.S., up by 17 percent from 2008, Nolan said. And despite having one of the highest minimum wages — $8 an hour — 21.1 percent of working families are poor. Studies show that the state’s food insecurity rate — which is defined as a lack of assured access to food — is 13.4 percent.

What those who work with families in need know is that hunger impacts children’s development, education, health, and the state’s achievement gap between low and high-income students, which is the highest in the nation, Nolan said. Low-income students are less likely to graduate from high school and pursue higher education, often leaving them stuck in lower-paying jobs.

Poor nutrition among infants and young children can slow development and lead to repeated illnesses, noted Stephanie Ettinger de Cuba, research and policy director for Children’s HealthWatch. One idea being considered in some areas is having hospitals and health centers screen patients for food insecurity and have the means in-house to sign them up for benefits, she said.

Even with benefits such as food stamps, now called SNAP, families often have to make difficult choices about food purchases and sometimes fall back on cheap, fast and junk food, leading to obesity and other health problems, Nolan noted. Recent federal cuts in SNAP benefits are making it even more difficult for people to get by.

The opinions of many legislators that food banks will pick up the slack is simply unrealistic, several speakers said. “We already are serving people who are not eligible for assistance, people not using benefits and people whose benefits have run out,” said Gloria McAdam, chief executive of Foodshare. “There is no way for us to grow that big (to serve more people.) We need a paradigm shift.”

Since many people who are eligible for food assistance don’t receive it, Foodshare is using volunteers to help people apply for SNAP benefits in Hartford and Tolland Counties and enlisting community groups to help fill gaps in support. At the same time, some banks are trying to help clients become more self-sufficient. One group called Fresh Place requires clients to work with staff members on long-term solutions in order to receive food. “We have to figure out how to feed them in line, but also how do we shorten that line so they don’t come back the next week and the next,” McAdam said.

Part of the reason for food insecurity is that while national economists have declared the recession over, Connecticut’s unemployment rate remains high and many of the jobs lost during the worst of the recession have not been replaced, according to Doug Hall, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Economic Analysis and Research Network. “Connecticut never really recovered from the 2008 recession,” Hall said. The state needs to create almost 150,000 jobs to get back to its pre-recession level. At the same time wages have been declining statewide, he said. 

Dissension in Congress has made it difficult to keep low-income families’ needs in the forefront, but for those working to end hunger, it is important to keep policy makers and legislators on task, said Ellen Teller, director of government affairs for the Food Research and Action Center. “You have to stay on a common message,” she urged. “You have to agree to do no harm; you can’t fund one program by cutting another.” Encourage lawmakers to visit your agencies and meet the clients, so that they can hear their stories, she added.

Nolan said that she hoped attendees felt energized by the discussions and were ready to try new approaches to combating hunger. “I think the majority of people are feeling like they can band together and do good stuff,” she said.

ellen r. delisio photo

L to R: Panelists Ellen Teller, Stephanie Ettinger de Cuba, Gloria McAdams, and Doug Hall gave presentations on the extent and impact of hunger in U.S. and Connecticut on Thursday at Middlesex Community College in Middletown.

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(10) Comments

posted by: dano860 | December 6, 2013  10:45am

Connecticut can change some its policies on the food they throw away, daily, at grocery stores. Canned goods that are past date code are still good but it must be destroyed, day old bread must be tossed, fruit and veggies are thrown away. Tons of food is dumped every day, we know that can go to better use. Cook it up in a commercial kitchen, freeze it, you can’t convince me that we can’t improve things and lives without a major investment, just change a few policies. A good portion of the infra-structure is in place today. They just need to refocus there efforts and methods of operation.
Look at Detroit, a bankrupt city, they have a fresh food program…

posted by: Gloria McAdam | December 6, 2013  2:12pm

There are no policies in CT that prevent grocery stores or other food business from donating.  Foodshare picks up donations from more than 70 grocery stores in the Hartford area every week.  The donations include meat, dairy, and produce.  This food is then distributed to local food pantries and community kitchens. 

This is in addition to a tractor-trailer load of food donated every day by food manufacturers, wholesalers, distribution centers, local farmers, etc.

The problem is that the unmet need is several times the amount of food that is donated by all of these food companies.  Food donations alone will not solve this problem.

posted by: LongJohn47 | December 6, 2013  4:57pm

In the second richest state in the country, we shouldn’t have to depend on charity to make sure that children have enough to eat.  Dano’s suggestions are useful, but they’re not a solution. 

We, as a community, need an organized, systematic, effective response.  The private market has failed here, and the government should pick up the slack.

posted by: dano860 | December 6, 2013  6:09pm

That is good news, I have been told by friends in the grocery business that they can’t give the food away. I will go back to them and straighten that out.
I don’t think our local food banks are getting much from the local grocers. I will check that out tonight.
What are some of the paradigm changing ideas that would alleviate this problem?
What are the roadblocks that are working against you?
We can contact our representatives and others if we know the problem.
It can’t be to just tax people and increase the dollars given to SNAP. Also whether we are considered the wealthiest State or not this problem exists in every State. If we removed the population within 10 miles of the western border I think Ct, would fall into the group of average income.
Our local food banks are suffering the same issues as the large cities.

posted by: SLHamby | December 8, 2013  4:23am

I get very frustrated with grocery stores that refuse to donate day old bread/pies/cakes/etc. out of concern that the hungry are going to sue…
Many here in NECT donate and we also accept from local bakeries, etc.

posted by: dano860 | December 9, 2013  9:17am

SLH, I have done some asking and it seems that Wal Mart is the largest donating supermarket.
I haven’t been able to find out what Stop & Shop or Price Chopper do, yet! I hope to find that out today.
I still don’t believe that giving out more SNAP is a paradigm shift and giving $15/ hr to work at any of the entry level jobs is only going to increase the competition for those jobs, thus leaving the less educated out on the street, once again.
Jobs and some assistance is better option for most families, we all (for the most part) have some work ethic and pride.

posted by: SLHamby | December 9, 2013  11:59pm

Hi Dan - let me know what you find out.
We do get a lot from Walmart. (I’m the press director for a food pantry/human services organization in Putnam.)
When I worked at a Price Chopper, most baked goods were tossed but policy may have changed.
I can’t say what leftover food we get from Stop and Shop - I can find out? - but they are very generous.
We are serving more and more clients.
I’m concerned about the upcoming reductions - how will we keep up?
(As an aside, the recent reduction was not a cut.)

I actually wanted to attend this event? But it wasn’t really geared to people who work, go to school, receive SNAP…

SNAP is supposed to be “supplemental.” The limitations on food purchases are odd and due leave families in a nutritional bind.
No hot food?
Legislators want to limit soda purchases - in order to allow for…juice? Raw sugar, organic juice?
Will there be a food stamp allotment increase?
Not with this Congress, I’m thinking.
We provide milk coupons, local farmers participate in a coupon program in order to provide fresh fruits and vegetables…

But what about people who don’t have access to the food pantry? Or to farmers markets? What about people who are using their SNAP benefits at the gas station…?

posted by: BrianO | December 10, 2013  10:16am

Connecticut needs to lose the idea that it is a “rich state” that just needs minor adjustment. 

The state has been undergoing a drastic demographic switch for over 20 years as a state with growing poverty and a constricting economy. 

The food shortage is just a symptom, as is the housing shortage, unemployment and underemployment, medicaid expansion etc.

As we enter the sniping season of political campaigns, the candidate(s) that rejects partisan warefare for seeking long-term bi-partisan fiscal solutions to long festering economic problems will hopefully get the most attention. 

Time to think different.

posted by: LongJohn47 | December 10, 2013  11:12am

BrianO (and everyone else)—this is a terrific, positive comment thread.  It’s great to see people cooperating.

posted by: StanMuzyk | December 10, 2013  1:17pm

We have a problem in Connecticut as state farms have diminished drastically, and community gardens are missing in most communities, and back-yard vegetable and fruit gardens have been replaced by flower gardens.  We are primarily dependent on out of state and foreign food imports.