Taskforce formed to combat hunger in South County

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KINGSTON, R.I.–March 19, 2007 – More than 50 people from the South County area attended a “community conversation” at the Peace Dale Congregational Church earlier this month. They wanted to know what they could do to tackle the problem of hunger. The overriding sentiment of the group was summarized in the words of the meeting’s youngest participant, 5-year-old Abby, who said she had come to the meeting because “no child should go to bed hungry.”

After 90 minutes of information sharing and discussion, a 12-member taskforce was formed to develop effective strategies to create a hunger free community. The taskforce will meet this month to plan their next steps and develop specific actions. Taskforce members hope to encourage additional participants in their efforts, specifically, members of the school committee and district wellness committee, as well as, members of the town council. Anyone interested in joining the taskforce and learning more about the hunger-free community initiative, please contact Charlene Mitchell at 874-5145 or email, skhfree@etal.uri.edu.

The conversation meeting was organized by Susan Gustaitis, executive director of the Jonnycake Center in Peace Dale and Kathleen Gorman, director of the URI Feinstein Center for a Hunger Free America to address the growing concern about increasing numbers of people experiencing hunger.

The organizers, joined by Linda Barden, executive director of Welcome House, provided background information on the range of people using local food pantries and meal sites, and highlighted the difficulties of low-wage workers making enough money to be able to feed themselves and their families. Joe DeSantis, executive director of South County Community Action, spoke about the struggles of low-income families trying to pay rent, heating bills, and health care costs and having enough money left over for food. Sue Orban, chair of the Washington County Coalition for Children, highlighted the struggles of children coming to school on an empty stomach.

During an open forum community members identified particular concerns including low participation in school breakfast, the Food Stamp Program, and the challenges facing the local food pantry in meeting the growing demands. Participants suggested incorporating farmers’ and community gardens into the solutions and the need to connect health services with individuals struggling to make ends meet and a general need for improving communication across all interested groups, including more consistent participation by the media to keep everyone informed.