One in ten people living in our 14 county service area is food insecure. We strive to end hunger in west central Wisconsin because food makes everything possible. It is the difference between thriving and existing, and fuels learning, parenting and employment.
Feeding Healthy Futures
Children's intellectual, emotional, and physical development depends on access to wholesome foods and good nutrition. A child or teenager who endures poor nutrition during their formative years develops lower vocabulary, reading comprehension, arithmetic, and general knowledge. A diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables provides vital nutrients for children and their families. However, fresh food is notoriously out of reach for many families who are food insecure because it costs more, is quickly perishable and especially in rural communities, is hard to find. How do we provide healthy foods to as many people as possible?
Feed My People continues to get more and more fresh produce and other healthy choices to our hunger-relief partners every year. Last year, over a third of the food we provided to our agency partners was fresh food, and we're offering more variety of fruits and vegetables than ever before. These healthy options mean more children, teens, families, and seniors do not forgo their health.
Over 25,000 children and teens receive food annually through FMP's 200 partner programs in west central Wisconsin, including area school pantry programs partnering with us to serve students and their families. Many children rely on the federal free and reduced breakfast and lunch in our service area, but over the weekend that meal is not there. To help bridge this hunger gap, every Friday nearly 2,000 students receive food bags from Feed My People. 38 school districts partner with us to provide backpack programs as well. Learn more about FMP's Weekend Kids' Meal program.
Fueling New Starts
Many families are a car repair, a broken bone, or a lost job away from being food insecure. Unexpected expenses and the high cost of health care can be devastating to families already struggling. Many families try to make ends meet but because they bring in some income, they may not qualify for government programs. According to United Way's 2018 ALICE report (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed), an astonishing 29% of residents in our community (on top of the 13% in poverty) cannot afford a basic household budget of housing, child care, food, transportation, and health care. This is a downward spiral for not only working parents but the children they are supporting as well. How do we ensure unexpected events don't disconnect families from the food they need?
When families endure hardships that strain their budget, Feed My People's network of hunger-relief partners is there to make sure meals stay on the dinner plates no matter what a family may be experiencing. Together last year we served over 70,000 people and provided roughly 7 million pounds of food. We're always expanding and supporting our hunger- relief partners and working hard to find new ways to keep hunger from persisting in our communities and neighborhoods.
For example, our Pop-Up Pantry program is rolling out to both high-needs neighborhoods and rural communities to distribute fresh produce and other groceries in areas with limited access to food resources. Because many working families and seniors fear the stigma attached with visiting a traditional food pantry, the Pop-Up Pantry program often introduces new families to the food resources available to them. This food stability means the difference between focusing on a being productive parent, employee or student, and constantly worrying about where the next meal will come from.
Supporting Hidden Populations
The number of seniors served through Feed My People's partner programs has increased by 25% in the last five years alone and is expected to rise. Of those, one out of every three seniors who relied on our local food pantries for help reported that they have had to choose between paying for food and paying for medical care. Often living on a fixed income, this detrimental tradeoff impacts their health and quality of life. How do we help this struggling yet hard to reach group?
Many seniors are staying hungry instead of asking for help because they are worried about what others might think and do not want to take resources away from someone else. To overcome this challenge, many Feed My People agencies, such as the L.E. Phillips Senior Center in Eau Claire, offer group dining, social and holiday events, and promote nutrition programs such as SNAP (also known as food stamps) to get more food to seniors and increase outreach to this important, yet often hidden population.
FMP also sponsors food pantries located in low-income housing complexes for seniors. By removing the transportation barrier, seniors are provided with a consistent supply of nutritious food on site. Additionally, Meals on Wheels (MOW) has partnered with FMP to obtain some of the food for their daily meal distribution, as well as to provide emergency meal boxes twice a year. Participation is rising and no one has yet to be put on a waiting list.