Fighting hunger requires a community commitment

July 5, 2017
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Author: Todd Schnuck

Hunger is often described in terms of “food security,” defined by the Food Assistance and Nutrition Research Program within the United States Department of Agriculture as “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.”

Statistics from the 2016 Hunger Atlas, published by the University of Missouri’s Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security, paint a bleak landscape. They show Missouri ranks among the top 10 states with the highest percentage of households classified as food insecure or having very low food security. Almost half a million Missourians experience hunger at some point over the calendar year, the report found. We have to do better.

Hunger’s impact on families and communities can be enormous, including economic, social, physical and psychological consequences. Income loss, work absenteeism, higher demand for public benefits and social services, and increased health care expenditures can soon follow in hunger’s wake.

And, according to University of Missouri findings, hunger has also been found to have a strong correlation with lower educational achievement, unemployment and impaired work performance. For children, food insecurity and hunger are often predictors of chronic illness, low birth weight, lower school performance and developmental problems.

It is incumbent upon all of us to step up and improve this picture. The communities and families we serve depend on us to make nourishing, healthy food accessible — a critical component that society needs to thrive.

The concept of giving has long been part of the fabric of the St. Louis community, particularly when it comes to feeding the hungry. We see this in the commitment of the great people we work with at Operation Food Search, who will tell you that one in every six individuals lives in poverty and struggles with hunger in the greater St. Louis region, including more than 172,000 children.

We are working with Operation Food Search this summer to address that need as part of their “Shop Out Hunger campaign.” On Saturday, their volunteers will be at every metro area Schnucks and other regional grocery chains, including Dierbergs Markets and Straub’s, distributing a shopping “wish list” to customers as they enter the store. Food collected from the community will help fill Operation Food Search pantries at a time when many children who rely on school meals as their primary nutrition are most vulnerable: Nearly 1 in 4 local children don’t know where they will get their next meal.

We also have great partners in the Fair Food Network and the Mid-America Regional Council, who are supporting our June launch of Double Up Food Bucks at our Missouri locations, which allows our Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/Electronic Benefit Transfer card customers to receive free produce at Schnucks as a reward for purchasing local produce.

We see this new initiative as a three-way win for our community: Local families are able to bring home and eat more healthy foods, local farmers are able to sell more of their produce and the local economy benefits from more money staying in the area.

We hope others in the St. Louis area are making similar plans to meet the needs of our region’s hungry not only this summer, but in the long term. Food security is a real issue that deserves the attention of all of us in the grocery industry as well as others who support the well-being of our communities.

Todd Schnuck is chairman and CEO of Schnuck Markets.

First posted on St. Louis Post-Dispatch on June 22, 2017.