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The New Face of Food Banks: Fighting Hunger, Promoting Health

News Source: Huffington Post

Hunger is a complex social issue that requires a multi-faceted solution. While food distribution is the core of the work we do at Feeding America, many of our food banks also help people address the factors that contribute to their food insecurity.

Recently, we visited Corpus Christi, Texas to meet Judy, a Feeding America client who has type-2 diabetes and also struggles with food insecurity. To help manage her disease, Judy attended diabetes classes at the Food Bank of Corpus Christi and receives healthy food including fresh produce she could otherwise not afford through the food bank’s diabetes pantry. This special pantry provides clients living with diet-related illnesses with food to help improve their health.

Judy’s struggle with both food insecurity and diet-related illness is not unique. While it may seem paradoxical, people struggling with hunger are disproportionately impacted by diet-related illness such as obesity and type-2 diabetes. When you think about it, this correlation makes a great deal of sense. The many risks of people who are food insecure are the same as those with diet-related illness: limited resources; lack of access to healthy, affordable foods; cycles of deprivation and overeating; and high levels of stress.

At Feeding America, we serve more than 37 million food-insecure individuals each year. Given that the population we serve is also one at risk of diet-related illness, we have a responsibility to provide our clients with healthy food to improve their overall wellbeing.

In recent years, our nationwide network of food banks has taken great strides to do just this. We source 967 million pounds of fresh produce annually and provide nutrition education in 79 percent of our food banks. Additionally, more than two thirds of the food we distribute is classified as “foods to encourage,” our evaluation system that is based off of the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Yet there is so much more to be done. Feeding America food banks are evolving to meet the need. Food banks are becoming more than distribution centers, they are becoming centers of community wellness. In many cities, food banks offer classes designed to help clients manage their health and nutritional needs — much like the course Judy took in Corpus Christi. Some work with registered dietitians or maintain medical partnerships with community clinics. Others operate farm and garden programs, which provide additional sources of fresh and local produce for people in need.

These efforts and many more like them contribute to Feeding America’s objective to provide more healthy foods to people facing hunger. Through our focused nutrition initiatives, we are currently in line to meet our goal to distribute 1 billion pounds of produce in 2014. It is our aim to provide at least this much produce through our network each year, in order to meet the needs of our clients struggling with hunger and diet-related disease.

In case you were curious, Judy is doing really well now. With the help of the diabetes management programs provided at Food Bank of Corpus Christi, she has lost 40 pounds, requires less medication and feels better than ever. Her commitment to improving her health makes Judy’s a true success story and an important example of the real and lasting impact food banks make in the lives of the people they serve.

Working together with community organizations, businesses and the people we serve, we can not only solve hunger, but also promote health. Together, we can holistically provide for the people we serve and give people like Judy across America the hope of a bright, healthy future.

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