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How to feed your soul — and the poor

We have a messy public policy debate under way about how communities and various levels of government should act as we seek to “love thy neighbor as thyself” through ensuring access to food. Some communities have taken very interesting steps to improve the efficiency of the food delivery systems where that love is expressed.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in seven — or 46 million — U.S. citizens now fall below the official poverty level, and this rate has been rising for the past decade. If you are a couple with two children, this definition of poverty allows you only 79 cents per individual meal to feed your family.
The growth in the number of people struggling to have food on the table has increased demand on various charities. This has collided with a dramatic reduction in donations nationally, down 8 percent since 2007.
We have more needy and less to offer them. You can see a very sobering map of the problem by Googling “map the meal gap.”

In response, a movement coordinating the production of local food grown by churches, volunteers, schools and others in the spirit of “love thy neighbor” has begun. Resourceful communities now can create a system to deliver predictable harvests in large quantities for use by charities. Rather than having a church planting some beans, some corn, some tomatoes, all of which ripen at a different time in small quantities, the church is asked to deliver 20 bushels of corn at a specific week in July by pre-arrangement. This dictates the kind of corn to be planted and the planting time. Caring for the garden becomes easier. The food pantry knows when to expect the crop and can plan accordingly.
As the supply of locally grown healthy food has expanded, food pantries have a new insight: As a nation, almost one third of our adults no longer know how to cook fresh food!
Cooking does not mean warming up leftover pizza or defrosting a Weight Watchers meal. Cooking is the ability to take a bunch of newly picked vegetables or uncooked meat and turn them into something the family would want to eat. The adults of yesteryear were simply better trained to cook than we are today.
So we have an increasing number of people who need food on the table, less money to run the food pantry programs, an expanding local volunteer effort to grow fresh food to donate to the needy and a declining number of people who know how to cook … a real mismatch that needs local action to solve.
The historic role of the food pantry or soup kitchen system needs to change from simply handing out food to include training people to prepare it for use.

A good example of an innovative program in food preparation and preservation is run by Triad Community Kitchen in Winston-Salem. The Community Kitchen started a job-training program to teach future food handlers how to prepare “ready to heat” meals. In partnership with Forsyth Technical Community College, training is provided in food handling regulations, as well as cooking skills. The trainees, working under the close supervision of certified chefs and college faculty, practice their emerging skills by preparing food for distribution to the hungry.
North Carolina’s Second Harvest Food Bank Program now integrates both the trained workers and the food processed during training at Triad Community Kitchen program into their overall effort. This program contributed to the successful distribution in 2012 of 21.3 million pounds of donated, purchased and prepared foods through a network of more than 400 partner food assistance programs in North Carolina — more than 18 million meals served to the poor.
In addition to the Second Harvest effort, elsewhere people are being trained to cook venison. North Carolina has a creative program called Hunters for the Hungry that allows local hunters to donate deer and other wild game to be converted to stew or burgers. Last year, more than 20 tons of ground venison were donated to the needy.
Our country is full of success stories about how local leadership figured out a way to help their community, often while lowering taxes, increasing the numbers of people helped and increasing community and individual self reliance. The more I learn, the more I am convinced that we don’t lack ideas or role models. We seem to lack local leadership willing to take these good ideas and put them in place.
Chew on that for a moment. How do you fit into that picture?
Francis Koster lives in Kannapolis. His Optimistic Futurist column appears every other Sunday. To see the sources of facts used in this article, and learn of other successful money and life saving programs that can be implemented locally to create a better future for our country, go to www.TheOptimisticFuturist.org.

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