by Clancy Cash Harrison MS, RDN, FAND
Everyday we make choices. Today, I had the privilege to buy hearty whole wheat bread over a cheaper white loaf of bread. Last night, my children decided between broccoli and asparagus. The opportunity to make decisions is deep-rooted in our daily activity. Unfortunately, many individuals may not appreciate the privilege of choice; making it difficult to empathize with people who experience hardships such as hunger.
There are 13.1 million children experiencing food insecurity in the United States putting the health of our nation at risk. Nourishing food is vital for establishing a child’s health, academic achievement, and their economic contribution to society. Many people who qualify for food assistance programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formally known as food stamps) may choose not receive the nutrition support they need because of the stigma associated with food assistance.
At the Al Beech West Side Food Pantry in Kingston, Pa, our mission is to fight hunger with dignity and the power of choice. In 2015, the food pantry board decided to invest in a $7,000 walk-in cooler for the ability to store and distribute fresh food to the clients of the food pantry. In the first year, the food pantry distributed over $50,000 worth of fresh food such as eggs, produce, milk, cheese, and meat at a bi-weekly produce stand. The produce stand is free to both the food pantry volunteers and clients.
Giving our clients and volunteers the power of unlimited choice of produce has created an unexpected environment at the food pantry. The food pantry has become a place of friendship, recipe sharing, and more importantly a place that cultivates dignity. Food distribution at the food pantry is not seen as a handout but as a resource for everyone, including our volunteers.
If we want to transform the health of our next generation, we must fight hunger with dignity by fostering the power of choice. When people have the liberty to make decisions about food, they have power over their health and future. Fighting hunger with dignity combined with access to fresh and nourishing food is the key in securing a healthier and prosperous nation.