Merriam Webster defines hunger as “a craving or urgent need for food or a specific nutrient”, but the causes and effects of hunger goes much further than a feeling. Lasting hunger and food insecurity is a problem that has plagued Athens-Clarke County for years; 21.6% of our community members classifies as food insecure. That’s 26,340 people who are unsure of where their next meal will come from. Of these residences, 5,300 are children.
The foremost factor contributing to food insecurity is poverty. 35.5 Percent of the residents of Athens-Clarke County are living below the poverty line. While the average cost of a meal in Athens is only $3.11, defeating food insecurity means that these citizens need access to nutritionally adequate foods which are often not available cheaply. This can pose an extreme economic barrier for these residents.
Another contributing factor to this problem is access. 55,334 Athenians live in food a food desert, which means they live more than a mile from a grocery store. While this may not seem like a large distance, those living outside of Athens public transit system and without a car aren’t able to make regular trips to get the food they need. Lack of adequate nutrition can lead to health problems and other issues, worsening the economic situation for these individuals.
This problem, however, is not being ignored by the people of Athens. The Athens Farmers Market has begun doubling dollars for those using SNAP at the market. The Food Bank of Northeast Georgia, which is operated by Feeding America, is located in and serves Athens. While both of these institutions provide low cost, high nutrition food, they don’t address the transportation issues some residents of Athens face.
The Athens Community Council on Aging operates as a hub for Meals on Wheels, which addresses the mobility issues many seniors face, but their program lacks the funding to solve the problem at large. The University of Georgia Office of Service Learning operates a student program called Campus Kitchen that provides weekly meal and grocery bag deliveries to low income seniors in the Greater-Athens area. These actions taken by members of the Athens community have made great strides in fighting hunger and food insecurity. We, however, can only overcome this issue if we continue to work to find new and innovative ways to get people the nutrition that they need to live healthy and productive lives.
Written by: Ali Elyaman