The full realities of Jacksonville’s hungry

Over 240 families rely on the Jacksonville Community Area Food Center for groceries every month. I’m from the Jacksonville area, and I can’t help but be reminded that our neighbors are the ones being fed by the Food Center … and after listening to the regular workers at the Center, it sounds like some of us are forgetting that. My name is Erin Washington! I’m a junior at Illinois College, the intern for the Helen A. Dean Community Garden this summer. As part of my interning duties, aside from maintaining the garden, I plan events and donate the food the garden produces. So far, I’ve been working hard in the garden, planting, weeding, harvesting and weeding, and weeding and weeding … and did I mention weeding? (I would mention watering, but I think God has provided the watering this summer.) However, it is all worth it when I see the outcome. Twice a week, as part of my internship, I volunteer at the Jacksonville Food Center. There, I get to interact with the people the garden helps. Stereotypes were broken, and the reality of food insecurity in Jacksonville came to life. Here’s what I’ve learned:

When your neighbor knocks on your door and asks for a cup of sugar, do you dig through your trash to find it? Then, do you give it to them, thinking, they can’t complain because they need it. Well, if you do (and I really really, really, really hope you don’t), you’re wrong. No one on Earth needs expired food. No one in Jacksonville deserves expired food. When a worker at the Food Center revealed to me that someone once donated food from 2007, I was disappointed. Please check the expiration dates on the food you donate. On the other hand, ‘best buy’ dates are not the end all, but still should be considered. Please just donate food to them!

Why do they need food if they are overweight? Well, I can answer that question with another question. What is the cheapest option for food in Jacksonville? Fast food is the cheap and easy solution for any struggling family. However, being hungry is more than an empty stomach. It means there is a serious lack of nutrition in a diet. People facing food insecurity in Jacksonville are not starving to death, they are eating themselves to death. No one can live an active life off of fries and chicken nuggets. Still, when money runs to low, that’s when the Food Center is to blame. More often than I’m proud to say, I’ve donated junk food to the Food Center. Most nonperishable food items aren’t healthy! Canned vegetables or fruits have too many preservatives and chemicals that add up when someone is depending on them for nutrition. Often, people come into the Food Center asking for wheat bread or water, but we may not have it in stock. Frequently, there is more soda than water, and more white bread than wheat. The Helen A. Dean Community Garden, as well as other gardeners in the community, plans to combat this nutrition problem by donating our vegetables to the Food Center! Produce goes by fast, so know that people with food insecurity are trying!

Who are, “they?” “They” are our neighbors who just need help. But this is America, they should pull themselves up from their bootstraps and get to work like me! Well, I am sorry to say, but I don’t think anyone in the world has ever accomplished any sort of success on their own. When someone wins an award, what is the first thing they do? They say a “Thank you” speech. As in, they are thanking all of the people who have helped them along the way. The people depending on the Food Bank donations do not have that long thank you list … yet. When you donate to the Food Center, think of yourself being added to someone’s “Thank you” speech. You’re giving families the nourishment they need.

Great things can be accomplished by food. When I was working at the Food Center, a child was waiting in line with his dad. He told me that he was 12 years old and going to Turner next year, and he was almost a teenager. Later, I thought about my life when I was thirteen. The most important things were fitting in and getting good grades. It’s hard to fit in when you’re hungry. It’s hard to study when you’re hungry.

Our neighbors are hungry.

Help feed your neighbors by donating to the Jacksonville Food Center, and follow the Helen A. Dean Community Garden on Facebook to learn more about events and how the Garden is doing!

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