Every morning on my way to work, I stop by my local newspaper shop to grab a cup of coffee. Like many other working Americans, it’s part of my morning routine: run into the shop, prepare my coffee and get in line. When it’s my turn to pay I quickly hand the cashier $4 and without a second thought, take off for work.
Admittedly, I take these morning coffee runs for granted, but I know I am fortunate to be able to spend money on breakfast every morning without worrying about how I will eat for the remainder of the day. But this month which is National Hunger Action Month, I’m challenging myself and you to step back and think about how we would survive on $4 a day for food with the TASK 30 Ways in 30 Days Challenge – a calendar filled with easy actions to help battle hunger.
Cash is tight for many in our community who are unemployed, underemployed, or working jobs that fail to meet the national standard for a living wage, and they have to carefully calculate their spending on food. In Trenton, nearly one in every three households live in poverty and many more bring home a salary of less than $34,000 each year. And after putting more than half their income toward the growing cost of rent, many residents have little income to cover essential living expenses, such as food. It comes as no surprise that food insecurity is a major challenge faced by low-income families in Trenton.
In fact, nearly one in every six families in Trenton is uncertain of how they will get their next meal.
Food insecurity is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as “lack of consistent access to food necessary to sustain a healthful, active adult lifestyle”. The issue is not just that Trenton families lack access to food, but that they lack access to foods needed to maintain a nutritionally adequate diet.
Though one quarter of Trenton residents are eligible for, and might receive benefits from, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), but SNAP provides New Jersey recipients with an average of about $120 to purchase qualifying groceries every month. However, recent food budgets published by the USDA show that even the thriftiest spenders pay at least $160 to maintain a good diet. While SNAP covers some meals, it might fall short for some families, as one in three recipients still depend on food pantries.
To make matters worse for families facing food insecurity, Trenton is considered both a food swamp and food desert. Exposure to an abundance of corner stores, bodegas and fast food restaurants that mainly provide processed foods high in fat and sugar, make Trenton a food swamp. At the same time, the city’s restricted access supermarkets that provide a full range of unprepared meats, dairy products, and fresh produce, make it a food desert. According to a recent food assets evaluation published by a research team from New York University (NYU), there is one major full-service supermarket in Trenton. The others which are substantially smaller, have limited grocery stock. While the national average offers one supermarket for every 15,250 people, Trenton offers its 84,000 residents just one full-service supermarket according to the NYU team’s research. And, if limited access to food is an issue resulting from high demand and low supply, it is further complicated by the fact that only one-third of Trenton residents live within walking distance of a supermarket and even fewer own cars to make the trip.
This combination of limited access and money to spend on healthy foods creates a complex barrier for the city’s low-income residents facing food insecurity. Restricted budgets force families to consistently make tough choices on what foods they can afford to buy. Often price, not nutrition, dictates what is purchased. When asked what the most important factor is when deciding what to purchase, shoppers using SNAP benefits report “how well food keeps” as the leading factor. Still, not all food that keeps well is healthy. Foods that have a longer shelf life are often pre-packaged and processed with sodium, fat, sugar and synthetic additives that are known to increase the risk of diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension and heart disease.
Coincidently, heart disease, obesity and diabetes are public health issues that plague Trenton. Heart disease and stroke are among three leading killers of adults, and more than 16 percent of the population suffers from diabetes.
As alarming as the numbers are, we believe there is much we can do to make things better for city residents who are among the 40,000 in Mercer County who are food insecure. Throughout September, food pantries, local nonprofits and other social service agencies across our community will band together to fight hunger in Trenton. Join us and take on the TASK 30 Ways in 30 Days Challenge and invite others to get involved in these simple acts that help fight hunger each day in our community.
We’ve made it easy for you to be a part of this community effort with a calendar inserted in this issue of the TASK newsletter. It’s full of things you can do alone, with family, friends, or co-workers throughout the month.
Tell us how you’re doing and post your progress and tag @TaskSoupKitchen on Instagram, Facebook and/or Twitter.
Writer Markolline Forkpa joined TASK in Fall 2018. Read the full story with sources at http://www.HungerActionNJ.com