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University of Illinois Extension

Illinois 4-H Members Join the Fight Against Hunger

February 19, 2014

Illinois 4-H members are used to pledging their "health to better living," but a state initiative has members battling a new health threat; local hunger.

"Hunger is closer to home than many people realize, said Bill Million, University of Illinois Extension 4-H youth development specialist. "According to a 2011 report published by Feeding America, Illinois ranks 26th in the nation when it comes to the number of children facing food insecurity.

"One in five children faces hunger and food security on a recurring basis," Million said, accounting for 23 percent of all Illinois youth under the age of 18.

Last year, Illinois 4-H launched the 4-H Feeding and Growing Our Communities pilot initiative, with more than 1,500 youth and adult volunteers dedicating 12,250 hours to various hunger-related projects across the state.

Youth in Rock Island, Sangamon, Boone, Ogle, Dekalb, and St. Clair counties, in cooperation with Illini Fighting Hunger, packaged more than 63,000 meals which were distributed to local food banks and pantries.

Illinois 4-H members harvested more than 4,000 pounds of fresh produce in community gardens around the state. Members of Hamilton County's 4-H Teen GIFT Garden 4-H Club cared for a large garden and then sponsored cooking classes where kids learned about growing vegetables, washing and preserving produce and proper food safety procedures from production to consumption.

The 4-H Federation club members at the Community Gardens in historic Waterloo were surprised to learn that senior citizens struggle to afford to eat fresh produce, Million said, so they took produce to the Senior Center and Assisted Living centers in Waterloo.

"This program has truly made a difference within the Springfield community," said 4-H Youth Development Educator Erica Austin. "Community members took ownership of the garden just like it was their very own.

"The names of our gardens also speak volumes to what 4-H was trying to do," Austin said. "'Harambee' in Swahili means 'let's pull together,' and the community did just that to create a beautiful garden."

Once 4-H members began to understand the problem of hunger, they began to expand their programs, Million said. Rock Island youth are now serving meals to the hungry and assisting at food pantries, and in McLean County, 4-H members provided more than 400 snack packs to help feed children on the weekends with nutritious meals they can take home from school in their backpacks.

With additional funding from the Illinois 4-H Foundation, Illinois 4-H club members are ramping up their anti-hunger program by engaging 4-H members, volunteers, families and whole communities in joining forces to be part of the solution for alleviating hunger within Illinois communities, Million said.

Community groups can work with 4-H members in their community, or form new clubs geared solely around hunger issues. Some activities groups may wish to complete include

· Establishing a community 4-H garden where members grow fresh vegetables to be given to local food pantries, soup kitchens, or shelters serving individuals in need.

· Encouraging 4-H members enrolled in vegetable gardening or gardening enthusiasts to Plant a Row for the Hungry and donate their extra produce to local food pantries, churches, and other organizations serving families facing food insecurity.

· Conducting a canned food drive to support a local food pantry.

· Organizing a group of 4-H Teen Hunger Ambassadors to learn about hunger in their community

and develop a plan to contribute to its decline.

· Organizing a food packaging event where volunteers assemble pre-packaged meals to be

distributed through food pantries with in their county.

· Sponsoring a booth in a grocery or other retail stores heightening the awareness of hunger in the

local community and collecting non-perishable food donations to support local food pantries and

soup kitchens and other meal sites

· Partner with local organizations in providing a summer lunch program where one or more 4-H

clubs sponsors a day or a whole week

One may contact Million at 217-333-0910 or via email at wmillion@illinois.edu) for more information.

Source: William J. Million, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development, wmillion@illinois.edu

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