Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Food Insecurity in the Land of Plenty

The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the wealthiest regions in the United States, with the highest per capita income in the country among large metropolitan areas (bea.gov).  It also boasts a hunger rate among residents that is almost ten percent higher than that of the nation as a whole (one in four residents in San Francisco experience hunger annually compared to one in six nationally). The Bay Area exemplifies a wealth disparity far too prevalent in our nation. Students who come to the city will see that the very rich and the very poor often live only a few blocks apart. Food insecurity is rampant in the area despite San Francisco’s proximity to the Central Valley, the hub of California agriculture, only 200 miles east. For decades, the West Oakland community has been a food desert, an urban area where it is difficult to purchase fresh nutritious food, thus forcing residents with limited access to transportation to purchase food at the numerous liquor stores and convenience stores in their area, which offer much less healthy options. (peoplesgrocery.org).

Food security is defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization as the availability, access, utilization, and stability of food. It exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences (foa.org).  Limited access to nutritious food is one of the significant ways that inequality plays out in the Bay Area. There are many barriers to food security in the city, including unemployment, physical or mental disability, poverty, racial inequality, and the recent price surges in the housing market. Many of those who benefit from food assistance in the Bay Area are working families struggling to make ends meet. Almost half are children, who are less likely to succeed academically and more likely to drop out before completing high school.  A growing number are seniors experiencing mobility and health issues, struggling to live on a fixed income. Those suffering from hunger are truly the poor and oppressed, the sick and the lonely; God’s chosen people.

The Center for Student Missions is committed to following God’s mandate to do good works through our faith (James 2:14-17) by working to end chronic hunger in the Bay Area. We have the opportunity in this region to affect change in real and tangible ways. Student groups serving the city may partner with the SF Marin Food Bank or Alameda County Food Bank, which rely on thousands of hours of volunteer support to bring a combined 46 million pounds of food, 60% of which is fresh produce, to the residents of San Francisco, Marin, and Alameda counties every year. The food banks also provide home delivered groceries and support brown bag pantries specifically for seniors. Many of our partner ministry sites are supported by food from the food banks, including the homebound hot meal program and the kitchen and grocery center at Project Open Hand, the St. Vincent de Paul Society free meal dining room, the dining room and rehabilitation center at City Team International, and the senior meals program at the Salvation Army. Along with working to serve and uplift “the least of these” (Matt. 25:40), students serving at these sites will have the opportunity to learn more about the causes and consequences of hunger in the Bay Area, get to know staff and volunteers working to bring God’s Kingdom to earth, and to meet and learn from those fixed in a daily struggle against hunger. Chronic hunger is often an issue that goes unseen. Yet in this country, we allowed 133 billion pounds of food to go to waste in 2010 (npr.org). With a little intention and diligence, Christians can make a huge impact on the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of those made in the image of God.

- Mary, CSM San Francisco Bay Area Spring 2015 City Host

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