Despite being the richest nation in the world, the United States has something of a hunger problem. A study from the Brookings Institute has shown that 44% of all workers in the country have a median annual income of less than $18,000. This, partnered with rising cost of living, is not enough money to cover basic needs. Since 1982, Emergency Food Network (EFN) has played a pivotal role in helping the food insecure population get the nutrition they need to function in society. And with partnerships from institutions like TwinStar Credit Union, EFN can continue to help as many people who are food insecure as possible.
This food insecurity hits awfully close to the South Sound. “One in seven people in Pierce County is food insecure, meaning they don’t have access to affordable and nutritious food,” says Michelle Douglas, Chief Executive Officer of Emergency Food Network. “Children face an even higher risk of food insecurity, with one in five kids living in a food-insecure household. We also have 60,000 students in Pierce County who receive free or reduced-cost lunch. While many students look forward to school breaks, these breaks can be a cause of anxiety for students who rely on school for food. School breaks mean that they lose access to meals that they rely on.”
And it’s not just families with children. Senior citizens are also directly impacted. “Some of the trends we are seeing are more seniors visiting food pantries. Seniors are our fastest-growing population, with visits by older adults increasing 36% between 2011 and 2018. We are also seeing changes in how often people visit food pantries. Instead of visiting a food pantry just once, after an unforeseen expense like a car accident or medical bill puts a temporary strain on their budgets, households are now visiting food pantries as a regular source of groceries. With such a low unemployment rate, we know that most of the households we serve have at least one working adult. Unfortunately, even working one or multiple jobs may not provide families with enough money to afford all of their basic needs.”
To mitigate these grim numbers, EFN has grown with the need. Since 1982, EFN has grown from providing four agencies with less than $300,000 worth of food to providing more than 80 programs with more than $18 million worth of food annually. “EFN partners with food pantries, meal sites, and shelters throughout Pierce County, providing them with more than one million pounds of food each month, at no cost to them,” explains Douglas.
In order to provide the community with more than 14 million pounds of food annually, EFN collects food donations from food drives, farmers, grocery stores, and the government, grows food at Mother Earth Farm, and purchases food in bulk through the Co-op Food Purchasing Program. In addition to food, EFN provides its Partner Programs with best practice guidance, assistance with equipment resourcing, and pass-through funding to support their program.
It is partners like TwinStar Credit Union that help fund this noble endeavor. “TwinStar Credit Union is an incredible partner of EFN,” says Douglas. “Our partnership started with the Puyallup RV Show in 2018, where they matched the dollar value of food donations made at the event. They have sponsored our events and partnered with us providing a match for Giving Tuesday in 2019. Most importantly, their staff is enthusiastic about supporting the community and engaging with our work by volunteering at our Repack Project and contributing to community food drives.”
The importance of hunger cannot be overstated. “We know that hungry kids can’t learn, and hungry adults are not productive employees,” explains Douglas. Food insecurity has been linked to chronic health issues ranging from hypertension, to diabetes, to kidney disease. Food hardship in children is also associated with behavioral issues like aggression, depression and anxiety. According to the CDC, only 20% of our health is determined by clinical care. The rest is impacted by factors like the foods we eat, the neighborhoods we live in and family history. When people have access to healthy foods, their overall health can improve. “The impact of food insecurity ripples out throughout our entire community,” says Douglas.
Despite all of this, EFN continues to make great strides in ensuring that no one in Pierce County goes hungry. “Food is a basic human right,” says Douglas. “No one should experience hunger in the richest nation. It’s the work of EFN, our partner food pantries, and the organizations we work with like TwinStar Credit Union, to make sure that everyone has the nutritious food they need to thrive.”