This week I look forward to telling you about what we learned during our Chicago Mission trip serving the poor and the hungry. On our first day in Chicago, our group learned about the issues of food insecurity and homelessness. My focus this week will be on food insecurity, and next week I will delve into the topic of homelessness. So, to compare, do you think people living in the Boston area need food assistance? Marshfield has a food pantry, but what populations do they serve? In Chicago, we volunteered at St. James Food Pantry, and during our time there that day, we packed hundreds of bags of all different types of food, made sandwiches, and even packed medical supplies for families in need. However, the most surprising issue for the group was learning about ‘food deserts.’ The south side of downtown Chicago,and the area where the food pantry was housed in, was classified as a food desert. A food desert is an area that does NOT have access to local grocery stores and fresh fruits, and often times leads to a large reliance on fast food. Essentially, it means that the local “grocery store” is a CVS or a Walgreens,and the only other option is an hour+ drive or bus ride for a grocery store and this for a family in poverty would be very expensive and physically impossible.
Personally, until last year I had never heard about this problem, but it is a real issue and one which I could not believe would be found in the United States of America!
Often times these families in the food deserts have a poor diet (due to cost and availability) and rely on very fattening foods, fast food, etc. We stayed in the Southside of Chicago and never saw a grocery store until we drove closer to the city. Have you ever heard of a food desert? I hope this eye opening issue inspires you to donate, or educate yourself on lack of food issues in the Marshfield and Boston area. In a recent study by the Greater Boston Food Bank states that 1 in 9 households in Eastern Massachusetts are at risk for hunger. Since 2008, the food requests have increased over 21%! Another surprising statistic was 61% of people in this category had to choose between food and utilities (heat/electricity) AND/OR 60% had to choose between food and medical care. Chicago, Boston and even Marshfield’s food pantry statistics have shown that children (1 in 3 in Boston) and the elderly (1 in 5 in Boston) are at great risk for hunger issues. Marshfield’s food pantry serves 522 families monthly. These are some challenging numbers. I hope these statistics show that your weekly donation to the food pantry really does go a long way!