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World Food Day highlights food insecurity around the world and in Northern Indiana

World Food Day began in 1979 as a way to draw attention to the hundreds of millions of people who do not have enough to eat. Every year since, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) celebrates the anniversary of its founding on Oct. 16, 1945, by organizing a series of hunger walks, food drives and meal packaging events to benefit the hungry.

A 2014 report released by the FAO found that 805 million individuals – about 11 percent of the world’s population – are chronically undernourished.

Although the number of chronically hungry people has fallen by more than 200 million in the past two decades, the FAO estimates 5 million children under the age of five die of malnutrition-related causes each year. Over a quarter of children experience stunted growth or slowed intellectual development because they don’t get the nutrients they need.

But food insecurity isn’t limited to faraway countries.

Jamie Owen, agency relations manager for the Food Bank of Northern Indiana, said her organization helps distribute food to 8,800 families each week. Over the course of the year, the food bank, which supplies food for 170 smaller pantries in Elkhart, St. Joseph, Kosciusko, Starke, Marshall and LaPorte Counties, will provide the equivalent of 461,200 shopping trips worth of food.

“We just received the results of a two-year national hunger study, and the results were pretty shocking to me,” Owen said. “They tell us the economy’s getting better, but there are still a lot of people in need.”

Owen said that 35 percent of the people fed by northern Indiana food pantries are children, and 15 percent are elderly. Many of their clients are retired or out-of-work grandparents trying to raise children on a fixed income.

Other clients are caring for a sick relative, or dealing with their own health problems like diabetes and high blood pressure. Sixty percent report choosing between spending money on food or paying their rent or mortgage.

So what can you do to help? If you are interested in helping your neighbors in need, you can volunteer your time at organizations like the Food Bank of Northern Indiana in South Bend or the Food Bank of Elkhart County at Church Community Services in Elkhart. Food banks are always accepting donations of money and food, including fresh-grown produce from local farms.  

“We live in a generous community, and we’ve gotten a lot of support from farmers and gardeners,” Owen said. “We’ve been working with local farmers and food producers, because we want to provide more nutritious things. We know clients want fresh produce and meat.”

If you’d like to support World Food Day’s global effort to end hunger, you can visit the official website for tips on hosting a World Food Day meal for family and friends or organizing a meal packaging event. You can learn more about the effects of food insecurity by visiting the World Food Day blog, and you can draw attention to world hunger on social media using the hashtag #WFD2014 or #ToastAFarmer. 

Flavor 574 and The Elkhart Truth are hosting Elkhart Dining Days 2014, Oct. 17-25. Ten percent of meals at participating restaurants will benefit Food Bank of Elkhart County. The Truth also is also planning a Winter Break Food Drive Saturday, Nov. 15, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., to collect food for children in the Elkhart Community School district who depend on school lunches. More details on that to come.

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