Friday, October 22, 2010

Just Harvest (and you) in 'Action for Food'

Why is it that we see such scarcity of food for some in our land of plenty?

This was one of the main questions posed on Sunday Oct. 17, as Just Harvest Co-Director Ken Regal joined co-panelist Rev. John Creasy of Open Door Church and the Garfield Community Farm for a public discussion on local responses to hunger. The panel was held as part of the East Liberty Presbyterian Church’s Week of Action for Food, October 10 to 17.

“Hunger and poverty are not a matter of inadequate charity – they are a matter of inadequate justice,” said Ken. “When we as a society assert that people have a right to enough food to eat, and that it is nutritionally adequate, accessible, affordable, safe and healthy, and available to people without reliance on emergency food systems and charity – that is what will eliminate hunger.”

Ken spoke on Just Harvest’s policy work, focusing on the importance of removing barriers to participation in programs like food stamps, which make them “less effective, more intimidating, more bureaucratic, and discouraging” to people. Though over 150,000 people (1 in 7) in Allegheny County alone receive food stamp benefits, many more may actually qualify.

Ken estimated that one-third of all applications are rejected not because of an applicant’s income being too high, but due to the difficulties many clients face in providing documentation required by the Department of Public Welfare (DPW). Often these can involve eight to ten different documents and DPW instructions to applicants can be quite confusing.

When several in the audience asked how they could help out, Ken called on those present to ask their congressmembers to support child nutrition reauthorization via House Bill 5504 (the ‘Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act’). The child nutrition legislation, which governs school lunch, school breakfast, summer food and other key anti-hunger programs, is reauthorized every five years.

The Senate version of the child nutrition reauthorization bill (up for vote in the house sometime during the lame duck session between election day and the new year) funds its program improvements via a $2.2 billion cut to future food stamp benefits.

“You’ve heard the expression ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’,” said Ken. “We’ve heard this being described as ‘robbing Peter to pay Peter.’ It’s really not a good idea.”

He added that Just Harvest has met with Representatives Tim Murphy, Mike Doyle and Jason Altmire to urge them to support the house version – and to find a responsible source of funding for it that does not draw from the much-needed food stamp program.

In closing, Ken conceded that there are many complicated causes and factors contributing to hunger, but that ultimately every organization – and each of us – has an important role in untangling and addressing the issues.

“There’s an assumption that in order to solve the hunger problem, we ‘only need to’ teach people how to cook, or shop better, or budget better,” he said. “But there is no ‘we only have to...’ – there are a million things that we need to do simultaneously. But whichever one of those things that we choose to do to help out is going to help to solve the problem.”

Here's how you can take action against the food stamp cuts!

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