MURPHYSBORO, Ill.— A sad reality is that many individuals suffer from food insecurity and are without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. Food insecurity exists in every county in America. How could this be possible in a country that has more than enough food to feed everyone? Nearly half of all the food grown, processed and transported in the United States is wasted. According to Feeding America, 1 in 6 children in the United States may not know where they will get their next meal. Nearly 1 in 3 adults with a chronic disease struggle to pay for food, medicine, or both. According to the Feeding America Hunger Study 2014, 57% of client households served by Feeding America food bank said 66% had to choose between medical care and food and 69% had to choose between utilities and food.

In the state of Illinois, nearly 1.4 million people are struggling with hunger and of them 453,260 are children. Not only does food insecurity have a physical effect on people, but it can be especially harmful among children due to their increased vulnerability and risk for developing long-term consequences. According to Hunger in America, children who are denied an adequate diet are at a greater risk than other low-income children of not reaching their full potential as individuals. More specifically, children who are undernourished have difficulties concentrating and bonding with their peers and have a higher chance of suffering illnesses that have the potential to force them to miss school.

Fortunately, there are approximately 95 food pantries located all throughout the lower 16 counties of Illinois. Together, these food pantries aim to serve the people of southern Illinois that are in need of food assistance. University of Illinois Extension SNAP-Ed Educator Toni Kay Wright is a key member of the Southern Illinois Food Pantry Network. She and others within this group are coming together to identify ways to reduce hunger and improve the health and well-being of our communities through access to healthy and nutritious food, education, resources and advocacy.

In order to meet the high demands of food assistance in the area, the food pantries must rely on donations from the community and community partners to keep their shelves stocked. The Sack Hunger Food Donation Study findings revealed that not all of the foods being donated are meeting the nutritional quality recommended by the Feeding America “Detailed Foods to Encourage” Framework. In particular, the study found that sodium levels exceeded recommendations for vegetables, grains and miscellaneous food items. Only 26% of donations are considered healthful with the remaining 74% being high in sodium and/or highly processed.

Through the Nourish you Neighbor initiative, individuals are encouraged to donate healthy foods. Shopping lists and point of decision prompts are available to help potential donors identify healthy, shelf-stable foods that are needed on food pantry shelves.

Donation items could include shelf-stable fruits with no added sugar or packed in 100% juice, powders or shelf-stable milk, whole grain items such as brown rice, oatmeal or high-fiber cereals, canned protein such as tuna, nuts, canned beans and peanut butter, or vegetables low in sodium with no added salt.

News Source: Toni Kay Wright, (618) 993-3304, tkwright@illinois.edu

News Writer: Heather Willis, (618) 357-2126, hdwillis@illinois.edu