A Personal Perspective on Hunger in Iowa

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Written by a one of Friends of the Family's Housing Support Specialists


Every day. Every single day. 

We drive to and from work, we go to the park with our kids, and we watch television. Throughout those seemingly normal tasks, we drive by fast food restaurants, walk past grocery stores, and see commercials about mouthwatering food. Food seems to be so available to us everywhere that we go, that it is almost impossible to think that hunger might be impacting those around us. Let’s take a second to step outside of our safe little bubble that we reside in to protect us from the harsh reality of the truth.

Today, 1 in 6 children don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Almost 5 million senior citizens face hunger on a daily basis. To put that into perspective, that is comparable to if the full population in the state of Alabama was suffering from hunger. The hunger that I am talking about is not the little grumble you hear right around lunch hour at work. It isn’t the craving for ice cream at 9 o'clock at night. The hunger I am talking about is food deprivation; the kind that makes you feel weak, the kind that stunts a child's growth. It’s the kind of hunger that stops you; consumes your thoughts so you are unable to focus on anything except for your body's physiological need for sustenance.

Real hunger.

You probably accept the fact that hunger is a real problem here in the United States and not just something you hear about in poverty-stricken countries; but it can’t be happening here in rural Iowa, right? This is something that is only happening in more populated areas like cities, right?

2.7 million rural households are facing hunger right now. 

86% of the counties with the highest rates of child food insecurity are rural. 

Hunger is in our backyard.  It is impacting those who are around us, even if we don’t see it firsthand. 

Growing up in rural Iowa, I was in the same boat as many of you who are reading this. I had food on the table. I never worried about when or if I would get a meal. I only worried about what meal I was going to have. Was mom going to make me a pot of delicious goulash, or was dad going to fire up the grill and whip up some burgers? I never understood what it was like to be hungry. I still don’t.

I have, however, been able to see how hunger impacts people first hand. During my early years of college, I had the pleasure of volunteering at a local food bank back home. Myself, and a group of my friends each took turns walking individuals around the food bank and getting to know them as they were selecting food items.

I took a couple of different things away from this experience. The first was that I genuinely had no idea how many people in my hometown actually were in need of food. I was told that it was a slow day, but that did not stop family after family from coming in and seeking out help. There is a need. The next thing that I took away from volunteering was a change in perspective. I have always liked to think of myself as a caring human being, who does not let bias and social stigma creep into my head. I would like to think that I give everyone the benefit of the doubt. After reflecting on my time volunteering at the food bank, I noticed that I may not have been doing that. I had a misconception, just as I am sure many of us do when it comes to those who are unable to access food. I did not think hunger was an issue in our community and those who were hungry, I thought that it was their fault.

I thought that those who lacked the resources to attain food were in this position because they were not motivated enough to change their situation. They weren’t motivated enough to support themselves. I didn’t understand why they were getting “handouts” just because they had made poor decisions. I could not have been more wrong. I remember talking with one child, about a year younger than I was at the time, about what led him to the food bank. He told me about how he was taking care of his sick mother and his two siblings. His mother was very ill and required a lot of care. He was able to work, but that work was so he could pay the rent to keep a roof over his family’s head. He worked to keep the power on. He relied on the food he was receiving that day. As the day went on, I heard more and more stories from the people accessing the food bank. These people were not there to take advantage of the system, they were there because they had to be; they were there because they were hungry. 

Four years later, I have found myself working with those who are in need.  In need of housing, in need of resources, in need of support.  I talk with them daily. I know their stories. I know what they have been through. I walk down their paths with them. These people are working hard.  They are trying to improve their situations, support their children, and make a better life for their family. They work so hard, but they still need help. They do what they can, but they do not always know where their next meal is coming from.

Thankfully, there are local food banks (like the Food Bank of Northeast Iowa) who are able to help. They are able to help provide food for individuals and their families. This food helps their children grow and develop normally, it helps the kids maintain the energy they need to play and be a kid, it helps their parents maintain their health and gives them the energy they need to keep fighting for their future and build a foundation for a better life. 

So yes, hunger in rural Iowa is real. The good news is that we can help.

Each and every one of us have something to give. It doesn’t matter if we donate our money, food, or even our time. Every little bit can help make a difference in the lives of someone who is truly in need.

Don’t know where the nearest food bank is? It can be as simple as hopping on the internet and searching for one near you. You can also go to Foodbankiowa.org to learn more about what can be done to help in the fight against hunger. Call, reach out, and ask what you can do to help. 

Let's make a difference towards ending hunger.

(Statistics from http://www.feedingamerica.org/)