Community leaders join for ‘Faiths Against Hunger’

BY MIKE SHERWIN, ASSISTANT EDITOR

Three faiths came together last week to show solidarity and unified effort to raise awareness hunger and poverty.

The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), the Islamic Foundation and Catholic Charities co-sponsored “Faiths United Against Hunger,” during which members of those organizations spoke about living for five days on an average Missouri food stamp allocation of $3 a day and about the problems of hunger in St. Louis.

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Nationwide, according to the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, over 26.5 million people in the United States received Food Stamps during the 2006 fiscal year. In Missouri, the FNS reports that 816,460 people received food stamps during the month of May.

“Hunger is still prevalent in our community, so today we come together to put hunger on the table in the form of a food stamp meal,” said Lenny Frankel, president of the JCRC.

Batya Abramson-Goldstein, executive director of the JCRC, said, “We say by being here, ‘No, this cannot be. This must not be, in St Louis of 2007, in Missouri of 2007, of the United States of 2007.”

While many St. Louisans are able to pick out whatever they want from grocery stores, she said, “there are people in St. Louis who not only can never dream of shopping to their heart’s and stomach’s content.”

Nine representatives of local faith communities and local social service agencies participated in the five-day food stamp challenge.

For Tom Gorski, vice president of operations at Catholic Charities, he said he initially thought living on a food stamp budget would be relatively easy.

“I thought, ‘I can do this.’ I eat like a child most of time…I could live off of peanut butter and macaroni and cheese forever,” he said.

Gorski said he planned to go to the free nightly meal for the homeless at Sts. Peter and Paul Church to extend his dollars, but that made him realize that he would still have to find a way to get there if he was on a limited budget.

“When you factor in the methods of what I would have to go through to get food, this whole process became very difficult and very complex,” he said.

The food stamp challenge was a lesson for Gorski. “This past week also reaffirmed to me that the hardest working people I know are people who are poor and hungry,” he said.

Christine Woody, chapter/task coordinator for Missouri Association for Social Welfare, said the food stamps program has been very successful, making it critical for people to express their views to their representatives in the U.S. Senate, which is debating the Farm Bill Reauthorization Act that covers the food stamp program and other federally funded nutrition programs.

Woody noted that food stamps also provides benefits to the local economies, where food stamp dollars are spent.

“Food stamps inputted $87.2 million into our state’s economy last year, and resulted in an estimated 150 million dollars in economic activity,” she said.

State Representatives Patricia Yaeger and Maria Chappelle-Nadal, attended the event, and spoke about both the national Farm Bill Reauthorization Act and local legislative efforts.

Yaeger, a Democrat representing part of south St. Louis County, said that before the meeting, she heard a friend say that she did not believe any St. Louisans were truly going hungry.

“It’s sad but there are many people that believe that,” Yaeger said.

“One of the great ironies is that many people do not realize how much hunger there is in St Louis,” said Glenn Koenen, director of the Circle of Concern food pantry.

“The reality is that one person out of seven in the metro area is going to a food pantry every month,” he said.

“We’ve seen a tremendous increase in the number of working poor. In fact, today about three quarters of the families coming to us have employed adults in the household,” Koenen said.

“We are probably the only country on earth where hunger is an economic problem. In most places, hunger is there because there just isn’t enough food,” he said.

He said that while “the community is very generous and wants to help,” food pantries need more support to help the poor in St. Louis.

“We need more help if were going to keep reaching out to all of those families, if we want to make sure we don’t have serious starvation in St. Louis, or chronically malnourished children, who look like they are two or three years younger than they really are because mom and dad can’t afford food with enough calcium or protein,” he said.

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