People's Board: Could -- or should -- city government do more about hunger this holiday season?
This is an opinion of the Daily News People's Editorial Board, a group of 10 citizens who gather to debate hot topics in the city. To see video of the board's debates, go to www.philly.com/blogs/peb.
WE THE PEOPLE decided, this holiday season, to turn our attention toward hunger in Philadelphia. Here's the first thing we want you to know:
Hunger is not what you think.
Hunger is not just a few homeless people lining up at the soup kitchen on Christmas Eve. It's also families who can't afford to both pay their bills and put food on the table. It's people who don't have access to nutritious food in their neighborhoods, so they eat fast food and develop health problems, like diabetes.
Hunger is not just the unpleasant sensation of an empty belly. It's poor child development because of inadequate nutrition. It's a barrier to education and advancement, because hungry kids can't concentrate on their homework.
Most of all, hunger is not confined to a small portion of Americans. In 2010, about 14.5 percent of U.S. households - 48.8 million people - reported struggling to buy food at some point during the year. That includes 16.2 million children.
That 2010 number is up 2.6 million people from 2009. Many of the members of the board work around hungry people, and see this first hand. George Matysik works for Philabundance. Bishop Kermit Newkirk sees working people who once donated food at Harold O. Davis Memorial Baptist Church, in Logan, now asking for food. In this recession, the face of hunger is changing.
The People's Board won't pretend to have all the answers, because hunger is a complicated problem, intertwined with poverty. But we know that it's an emergency, and we need to start treating it like one. A few suggestions:
WHAT THE CITY CAN DO: Philadelphia city government has a lot of programs to combat hunger. It distributes food to soup kitchens and food pantries, provides meals at recreation centers during the summer, plants community gardens, and more. Perhaps most important, it's working to enroll the 170,000 Philadelphians who are eligible for food stamps but not collecting them (about 450,00 residents collect food stamps already).
Some areas in which we'd like to see the city do more:
Take a leadership role. There are a lot of charitable food distributors in the city, from big organizations to small neighborhood soup kitchens, and they're not always on the same page. The city could help get them coordinated.
Donate vacant properties. Hunger-relief organizations need storage space, and the city owns thousands of vacant properties around Philadelphia.
Emphasize education. One member of our board has struggled with hunger. Her life turned around when a family doctor helped educate her about nutrition and how to prepare healthy meals for her family. We'd like to see more emphasis put on programs like Get Fit Philly.
WHAT WE ALL CAN DO: It's not just about city government. We can all help out. Here's how:
Check on your neighbors. Look out for the seniors in your area. If they need help getting to the food pantry, consider taking them. Maybe cook them meals once in a while.
Check on yourself. If you're getting by on junk food because you think that it's the only thing you can afford, or that it's the only thing around, there are better choices. See our "People's Hunger Primer" box for details.
Donate. Over the holidays, when you're worrying about how not to get fat, think about people who don't have access to nutritious food. Then, write a check to an organization that fights hunger. It can use your money to buy food in bulk. You can donate food, too, but it's less efficient. See our "People's Hunger Primer" box for details.