No easy answers for child hunger

Doug Griesenauer and Norin Dollard.

All Faith’s Food Bank hosted its annual Child Hunger Summit, this year at Michael’s on East. Following a buffet breakfast, more than 250 guests heard from four speakers on the issue of child hunger: Doug Griesenauer from the United Way Suncoast, Norin Dollard, director of Florida Kids Count and John Cook and Richard Sheward, both from Children’s Healthwatch.

Among those seen at the informative event were Denise Cotler, Aundria Castleberry, Philip Tavill, Kameron Hodgens, Judy Cahn, Bart Lowther, Jon Thaxton, Kathryn Shea, Natalie Nesius, Mike Marraccini, Angela Mejicanos, Teri Hansen, Doug Staley and Jonathan Katz.
All Faith’s Food Bank CEO Sandra Frank introduced Keith Monda, Board Chair of Feeding America, the largest hunger relief organization in the U.S. The bad news? There are 42 million in U.S. today who are food insecure, 13 million of whom are children and 5 million of whom are seniors.

The need is so great, Monda said, that the solution has to start at the national level and then filter down to local communities. Feeding America is the umbrella for organizations such as All Faith’s Food Bank, which serves Sarasota and DeSoto counties, and partners with 180-plus agencies and organizations to distribute the food (more than 7 million meals last year) throughout the community.

The speakers then took center stage with four hours of the latest information on hunger and its impact on children. Griesenauer focused on the United Way’s ALICE Report (those who are asset-limited, income-constrained and employed), focusing not just on those below the poverty line, but those just above it, who often fall through the cracks. One out of three people in Sarasota fall under ALICE or poverty conditions, with African-Americans, Hispanics and those under 25 disproportionately affected.
“These people are not lazy, not people who made bad choices. Maybe luck hasn’t been the kindest to them. And any one of us is only one disaster away,” Griesenauer said. “While there are things that have been improving, there is so much more that we need to do.“

Dollard noted that when it comes to children, in the 2017 Kids Count Databook, Florida ranks 40th out of 50 states in their overall living conditions. The report takes into account strength of the economy, education, healthcare and family and community. Nearly one in four lives in poverty, and when it comes to children of color, nearly 40 percent live in poverty. “Clearly, we have our work cut out for us,” she said.

The speakers also spoke at length about the importance of good nutrition on the youngest and must vulnerable in our community, especially those ages 0-5. This includes brain development, physical and mental health and cognitive and socio-emotional abilities, all of which are impacted by childhood food insecurity.

The bottom line? While there are some encouraging statistics, more than 59,000 Sarasota families struggle every day to make ends meet, and more than 50 percent of all children enrolled in area schools rely on the free and reduced meal programs. There remains much work to be done.

Child Hunger Summit
1. Doug Griesenauer and Norin Dollard.
2. John Cook and Richard Sheward.
3. Kesta Stone and Sarabeth Kalajian.
4. Veronica Brady and Keith Monda.
5. Susan Michelson, Aundria Castleberry and Denise Cotler.
6. Richard Sheward and Sandra Frank.

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