Tulsa World, December 13, 2007: Food Insecurity: Too Many Starving for Attention

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Oklahoma is one of 15 states whose food insecurity — a technical word for hunger — ranks above the national average of 11.3 percent. A new U.S. Department of Agriculture report found 14.6 percent of Oklahoma’s 1.4 million households at times lacked sufficient food.

The USDA also found that in 5.3 percent of households in the state one or more adults had their eating patterns disrupted at times because the household lacked money and other resources for food.

Rates of food insecurity were substantially higher than the national average for households with incomes near or below the federal poverty level, households with children headed by single women and black and Hispanic households. Nationwide, children in about 221,000 households experienced reduced food intake and disrupted eating patterns.

And food banks and other agencies, which distribute food to individuals as well as to churches and charities that operate feeding programs, are seeing the demand for food supplies increase and sometimes less food to meet demand.

The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, the largest private hunger-relief charity in the state, distributes 24 million pounds of food each year to about 500 churches and charities that operate feeding programs in 53 central and western Oklahoma counties.

The USDA report found that about 21 percent of food-insecure households obtained emergency food from a food pantry at some time in the past year, and 2.2 percent ate one or more meals at an emergency kitchen.

The typical food-secure household spent 31 percent more on food than the typical food-insecure household of the same size and household composition.

Hunger adversely affects every aspect of a person’s life, from health problems to productivity on the job, says state Rep. Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, state Hunger Task Force member.

“It’s very disturbing,” Steele said. “We’re talking about a basic need that every human being has.”

Steele will file legislation to create a Food Security Council to coordinate food security programs and make sure that no Oklahoman goes hungry. New public-private partnerships to enhance food donation and distribution programs already in place also are a goal.

Steele is on the right track. Oklahoma has had high hunger numbers for a long time and more could and should be done. As Steele points out: “The immediate need is to make sure people have enough to eat. In Oklahoma, if we can’t take care of our neighbors, who can?”

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