The evening is sponsored by the Feinstein Center for a Hunger-Free America at the University of Rhode Island, in partnership with the Jonnycake Center in Peace Dale. Invitations to the “conversation” were mailed to elected officials, schools, organizations, churches, and agencies and the organizers hope that those receiving the invitations will spread the word. Anyone interested in knowing more about hunger and/or willing to help to end it are encouraged to attend.
Facts provided by Kathleen Gorman, director of the hunger center and Susan Gustaitis, executive director at the Jonnycake Center, highlight the need for local communities to become involved:
• One out of every eight households in Rhode Island is food insecure, which means that household members don’t have enough money to afford a healthy diet.
• There are 536 children in low-income families in South Kingstown, yet only 110 of the children are participating in the free or reduced breakfast at schools.
• Only a little more than half (56%) of the children in South Kingstown families that are eligible participate in the Food Stamp program.
• The number of households the Jonnycake Center serves is growing: 1,369 households in 2004, 1,470 in 2005, and 1,569 in 2006.
• Once a month, Jonnycake Center clients can receive 21 meals, enough for an entire week. This January, the center provided 12,000 meals.
About 70 percent of the people who come to the Jonnycake Center live in South Kingstown, nearly 30 percent live in Narragansett with a sprinkling of other nearby communities. Of the 594 individuals helped this January, 251 were children and 25 were elders. “They are the most vulnerable populations,” commented Gustaitis.
“We will present some basic information about problems and challenges of hunger and present some ideas and approaches that might be used,” said Gorman. “But we’re interested in hearing from community members and getting their ideas.
“South Kingstown is a very caring community and the numbers aren’t overwhelming. With our collective will, we should be able to make sure that the Jonnycake Center has food available during the entire year, that school meals are reaching the children who need them, and that everyone, healthy, disabled, seniors, children and the working families, have enough to eat.”
Gorman noted community-based efforts are part of a nationwide approach to respond to hunger. “Hunger often seems to be overwhelming and, therefore, insurmountable. More than 38 million people in America are considered to be food insecure. If we start with one community at a time, it’s possible to get a handle on hunger and, as a community, help the people who need it the most.”
The organizers noted that they hope to hold a similar event in Narragansett, and that they will provide encouragement and support to other community leaders who would like to begin an initiative for their city or town.