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The Evanston Public Library has partnered with Meals at Home, a meal delivery service that supports the homebound, the elderly, the disabled, and others unable to care for their nutritional needs, to present a series of events addressing the issue of food insecurity in Evanston.
The first of four installments occurred on Oct. 25 in the library’s community meeting room. Approximately 30 people turned out to participate in the conversation about ways to collaborate and tackle the multiple challenges of hunger in the community.
Three Northwestern University students presented findings from a study they conducted last summer on food insecurity and food access in Evanston. Joanne Huang, a third-year School of Education and Social Policy student, defined food insecurity as a state in which people do not have sufficient, safe, nutritious food without resorting to scavenging, stealing or food donations.
The study found Evanston’s food insecurity rate ranges from 12.1 to 20%.
The report included a map identifying 144 food sources in Evanston and identifying the sources on a scale from least to most healthy and low- to high-priced. The students found only a few locations that offer low-priced, healthy food options, making it difficult for low-income residents to find quality food.
“Evanston needs to invest in more nutritional, affordable, and local food sources,” said Northwestern junior Isabel Hoffman.
The students also looked at other communities similar in size to Evanston and analyzed their food security programs, including a program out of Ann Arbor, Mich., called “Double-Up Food Bucks,” in which consumers not only use their food bucks as currency, but 100% of purchases up to $20 are matched. That means a food bucks user who spends $20 at the farmers market will walk away with $40 worth of fresh fruit and vegetables. The students discussed several programs in Evanston that are already working to address the hunger issue, including the Evanston Farmers Market Link program and the distribution of free produce at the Robert Crown Center. They also recognized organizations such as Meals at Home and Blessings in a Backpack, a national program that distributes bags of food to students to take home for the weekend, as critical, well-established components to solving the hunger problem in Evanston.
“There are a lot of different organizations in Evanston fighting food insecurity,” said Northwestern junior Julian Sanchez.
“But they are all very linear. We believe it would be beneficial to create a more collaborative effort.”
The report offers several suggestions to help the City to address hunger, including the creation of a task force that would encourage collaboration, extending the Farmers Market Link program to grocery stores, and encouraging healthier food options at convenience stores.
“To truly address food security in Evanston, the community needs to come together,” said Meals at Home Executive Director Debi Genthe, who addressed the audience after the students’ presentation.
Celebrating its 50th year delivering meals to community members in need, Meals at Home today has a pool of more than 350 volunteers who deliver fresh, ready-to-eat meals Monday through Saturday and on holidays.
The majority of Meals at Home clients are over the age of 65 and are considered low-income. Some 40% of clients have special diet requirements.
Daily home meal deliveries are important to clients’ health not only because they provide food and nourishment but also because the person-to-person connection helps people feel less lonely, said Ms. Genthe.
“We fill a niche that food pantries and restaurants cannot, but we are all a part of this puzzle,” she said.
Ms. Genthe thanked the students for sharing their findings and for helping to kick off a discussion about what more can be done about hunger in Evanston.
“Our goal for tonight was to start the conversation about working towards solutions and finding ways to collaborate and we are off to a great start,” she said.
The Northwestern students’ full report is at www.mealsathome.org/past-events.