Lily Verren, Campus Carrier staff writer
The Bonner Scholars program hosted a panel on Nov. 17 surrounding the issue of food insecurity in children, especially in the Floyd County and Rome area. The panel was facilitated by Bonner Leadership Team Members Brylen Cantrell, junior, and Anthony Velez, junior.
The panelists at the event were Lindsey Kilby, director of anti-hunger initiatives at the YMCA of Rome & Floyd County, and Jake Hager, development director for Northwest Georgia (NWGA) Hunger Ministries.
Kilby works with volunteers to deliver food and manage “mobile markets”, which is a way for children and families to access nutritious, healthy food at a lower cost and easier access than a grocery store.
“I’ve been at the YMCA for about two years,” Kilby said, “Our kids come in and will fight over food. They are hungry, they are exhausted from school, and they have behavioral issues.”
Hager works in conjunction with the YMCA, as well as many other hunger-directed organizations in northwest Georgia, to set up the needed resources to facilitate help.
“Our ultimate goal is to break the poverty cycle. If a child is hungry, they cannot learn, and [learning] is the best opportunity to break out of the poverty cycle,” Hager said.
One of the challenges facing hunger initiatives in northwest Georgia is the distance from robust food sources that so many people live with.
“Floyd County is very vast,” Hager said. “It’s hard to get to all those areas in one week and to all those children.”
According to Hager, Rome and Floyd County is at 16 percent food insecurity.
“Mobility can be an issue for people to get to grocery stores,” Hager said. “All the grocery stores are difficult to get to on foot; Publix is probably the most pedestrian-friendly.”
According to Feeding America, a charity focused on food needs in the United States, 1 in 9 people in Georgia face hunger, which includes 1 in 7 children.
The problem is not simply the inaccessibility of food products—the average cost of a meal in Georgia is $3.19, according to Feeding America’s ‘Map the Meal Gap’ study. Food from convenience stores or gas station marts doesn’t give children the proper nutrition that they need to thrive.
“We don’t call many of the areas around Floyd County food deserts, we call them food swamps,” Kilby said, “Much of the food they’re getting is shelf-stable, with lots of preservatives and carbs, not a lot of protein or vitamins.”
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity has become more prevalent due to the inflated prices of food and economic stress that many families felt during the pandemic.
“We have not seen a decrease in food insecurity, it’s actually gotten worse,” Kilby said, “Some families came and went, but now we’re seeing them come every week, with the inflated prices.”
Now, the focus is on growth, in terms of how the YMCA’s and NWGA Hunger Ministries’ services can spread to help more people. Students interested in supporting anti-hunger efforts in the Rome area can help best by volunteering and donating to such initiatives.
“Volunteer in your local food bank, food pantry, or YMCA mobile market,” Hager said.
Instead of donating physical food to drives and food banks, Hager said that donations of money are more effective, because anti-hunger organizations can buy food in bulk and work with local providers to get food at a discount.
“I got 50 boxes of peanut butter for $4,” Kilby said. “Each box has 12 jars. They’re not expired or anything, just a wrong label, or a donation for a tax write-off, or they need to move product to make room for new stuff.”
To find out how to get more involved in YMCA Rome anti-hunger initiatives, contact Stephanie McElhone, YMCA director of community development at email@example.com.
In addition to providing service at local food banks and pantries, volunteers can also work in conjunction with NWGA Hunger Ministries’ program “Backpack Buddies”, which provides take-home meals for students with food insecurity over the weekend, when school lunches are not provided.
To get more involved with NWGA Hunger Ministries’ initiatives, contact Hager at Jake@hungerministries.org or Dawn Hayes, volunteer coordinator, at Dawnhayes@hungerministries.org.
Alternatively, NWGA Hunger Ministries volunteering services can be contacted through their website at https://www.hungerministries.org/volunteer-donate.