One of the many issues the Community Foundation of Central Illinois (CFCI) continues to address is food insecurity—the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient amount of affordable, nutritious food. Despite many years of hard work by numerous community partners, food insecurity remains an ongoing public crisis. Recent studies show that 43,000 residents—including 14,000 children—are impacted throughout the Tri-County region.
Ending Hunger Together
In 2018, CFCI created the Ending Hunger Together program to focus on four key areas:
- Closing the food insecurity gap
- Encouraging meaningful collaboration between existing organizations
- Increasing the amount of quality food in the emergency food system
- Creating a model that addresses current needs and identifies underlying issues
Since then, CFCI has worked with over 20 area partners to increase food access, advance education, and create urban agricultural opportunities. While we take great pride in the collective accomplishments to date, there is still much work to be done. To take our efforts to the next level, CFCI awarded the initial Ending Hunger Together grant to Healthy Eating/Active Living (HEAL) Food System Partners, spearheaded by the Tazewell County Health Department. Among other key activities, the HEAL collaboration has created four new food pantry programs, developed a system of healthy recipe cards, and expanded partnerships with the region’s Black and Hispanic communities.
“The partnerships we have formed have led to an improvement in our food procurement process and distribution methods, and are helping to educate our pantry clients on the value of healthy eating,” says Wayne Cannon, manager of the Peoria Area Food Bank. “The emergency food system in our region has greatly benefitted from the Ending Hunger Together program and HEAL’s efforts.”
Healthy and Local
A subset of HEAL’s objectives is to increase advocacy and support for healthy and locally procured foods. Part of the scope of this work is to develop a healthy food policy for local food banks and pantries to specifically encourage healthier choices that support the cultural and dietary needs of recipients.
In late 2020, HEAL distributed two surveys to learn more from the community about specific food insecurity needs and potential obstacles to achieving our shared goals. More than 160 food pantry volunteers and staff members completed the surveys. Below are a few highlights from their responses:
- Barriers to acquiring healthy foods include storage, refrigeration, availability and funding.
- Too many food donations still include unhealthy foods, such as chips and candy.
- Responders identified and requested lean meats, fruits and vegetables, and healthy food recipes as the most helpful options to improve access to and intake of healthier foods.
You will be hearing more about these initiatives throughout 2021, but today my request is simple—consider donating any amount to CFCI’s Ending Hunger Together Fund and help us expand our efforts to combat food insecurity in central Illinois. As always, I thank you for your continued support and generosity. PM
Mark Roberts is chief executive officer for the Community Foundation of Central Illinois. For more information, call (309) 674-8730 or visit communityfoundationci.org.