Did you know food insecurity is a health, education and financial stability problem? According to statistics from Feeding America, there are 937,300 people struggling with hunger in Arizona, of which 311,390 are children. In fact, one in four children experiences hunger and is unsure of where their next meal is coming from.
Experts define food insecurity as having problems getting food, a shortage of food in the house or reduced food intake for individuals and families. For example, if a family is living paycheck to paycheck there might not be dinner every night until payday comes around.
Hunger is not a simple problem for families, especially for children. Food insecurity can lead to malnourishment, impairing children’s development and leading to chronic diseases. Hungry kids can’t learn, weakening a child’s foundation for success in school, work and life.
With social distancing orders and other measures in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the impact of food insecurity is being felt in communities large and small. Across Arizona, the pandemic has only heightened the need for food resources.
Valley of the Sun United Way continues to work with nonprofit partners, throughout Maricopa County, to address the rising food insecurity concerns of a vulnerable population that live in our very own communities. The goal is to ensure individuals and families have adequate resources and access to the food they need to live and thrive.
A variety of methods have been used to achieve this goal. A first step is to provide outreach to determine families’ eligibility for federal food programs like SNAP and WIC and assisting with enrolling in these critical programs.
Prior to the pandemic, United Way utilized the WeekEnd Hunger Backpack (WHB) program to help address food insecurity. The WHB program provided a weekend’s worth of easy-to-prepare supplemental food to school-age children who were identified as having poor access to food when not in school. The meals were packed by volunteers at bi-weekly assembly events and distributed to students every Friday throughout the entire school year.
In addition, the Snack Packs program has provided non-perishable snack items to students and individuals in the community in conjunction with corporate volunteer and engagement events.
Due to the continuing COVID-19 crisis, United Way has recently adjusted its model to ensure needed programming is implemented in a safe and timely manner. To that end, the WHB program has pivoted to a new model and is now called the “Pantry Packs” program.
Pantry Packs have a set menu of “shelf-stable pantry items” that include: Canned chicken, macaroni and cheese, oatmeal, granola bars, fruit cup and peanut butter crackers. The items provided in the Pantry Packs help families stretch their food dollars, which is even more critical during the current health and financial crisis.
The goal of the program is to provide Pantry Packs to 1,500 students, in Maricopa County every month during the school year, to ensure they and their families have food staples to get them through the month. United Way is partnering with the Roosevelt, Cartwright and Murphy Elementary School Districts and Academia Del Pueblo and Frank Elementary School. United Way supplies the packs and participating schools determine which families have the highest need.
United Way believes in helping kids have a better relationship with food and more focus on their education, not their hunger. We also believe it’s important to talk to children about food insecurity in our local communities and around the world.
According to Feeding America, “We all have a role to play in fighting hunger, whether old or young. Children can make a positive difference in the lives of other kids in need. It’s important to talk to children about hunger, and inspire them to take action to fight hunger.” Learn more about how to talk to your family about hunger in the Feeding America article here.
Safety continues to be the number one priority regarding volunteer engagement. The Pantry Packs program (formerly WeekEnd Hunger Backpacks) assembly events are currently on hold. In-person engagement opportunities will resume when it’s determined that group events are safe for volunteers and staff. In the meantime, there’s other ways to get involved!
Corporate partners can sponsor the Pantry Packs program, across the above-mentioned districts and schools, for $5,000 per month. A sponsorship donation covers the cost of food, assembly, coordination with schools and delivery of food to kids. For information contact: Volunteer Engagement at firstname.lastname@example.org or (602) 631-4868.
Families can search for a local food bank that’s in your neighborhood. Use the search tool below to find the closest food pantry in your zip code. Or you can search for a local food bank that’s in your neighborhood.