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Commentary: Let’s win the battle against hunger

Neighbors helping neighbors.
Loaves & Fishes
courtesy photo
Neighbors helping neighbors.

This is a really, really bad time for humanity. We are one of the most highly evolved species on the planet, but in recent times we have been making choices that don’t bode well for our overall survival. We choose to inflict pain and suffering on those who we deem different from ourselves. Just look at a few of the conflicts humans are currently waging.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is entering its 617th day. The United Nations estimates casualties to be as high as half a million humans. As of May 2023, there are nearly 5.1 million internally displaced people in Ukraine. According to data from July 2023, more than 6.2 million Ukrainians have achieved refugee status, and approximately 17.6 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

The conflict between Israel and Hamas is entering its third week. According to the Associated Press 1,400 Israelis and 8,525 Palestinians in Gaza have perished. A quarter of a million Israelis have been displaced and in Gaza alone, 1.4 million Palestinans no longer have a place to call home.

The conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo - did you even know about that one? - rages on. Over 6.9 million people have been displaced since the March 23 Movement (M23) launched an offensive against the DRC’s armed forces in the spring of 2022.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the war we are waging on planet earth. This globe that we inhabit is home to all of us.

Conflict and violence continue to be the primary cause of hunger and food insecurity the world over. Fortunately for those of us who live in Forgottonia, we aren’t directly impacted by war, but yet many of us still suffer from food insecurity. According to the US Department of Agriculture, McDonough County has a food insecurity rate of 13.2%. This is 21.1% higher than the national average.

Our community has a number of traditional food pantries, where clients can come in and shop for food items to take with them. Loaves & Fishes of McDonough County used to be one of these traditional food pantries, but since reopening our doors in November 2022, Loaves & Fishes has been distributing food vouchers to our clients, rather than actual food. With space generously donated by Prairieview Townhomes, we are able to offer food vouchers to clients on Tuesdays from 10:00 am to noon and 2:00 to 4:00 pm.

For 8 months, through June 2023, we were also able to provide rental and utilities support. However, the need for food assistance has risen so greatly, that we are now only able to provide food vouchers. Even with that change, the number of households requesting food vouchers has sky-rocketed.

In January, we spent approximately $5000 on food vouchers. However, in August and September we spent $12,000 each month. Households are given a $25 to $50 voucher each month depending on the number of people in their household. Given our current resources, it is unclear how long we can sustain this demand. Yet a recent survey of our clients speaks to how vital the food voucher program is to them.

One client wrote, “It helps me get through the month on things like toilet paper and extra food items near the end of the month or beginning of the month before I get my SNAP benefits.”

We desperately need your help and generosity now more than ever. Your gift is tax deductible. You can make your checks out to Loaves & Fishes, P.O. Box 9, Macomb, IL 61455 or click the donate button on our GoFundMe page at Loaves & Fishes of McDonough County. Please donate what you can and know that your gift of any size is greatly appreciated.

As Jonathan Kozol writes, “Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win.” This battle against hunger is one that we can definitely win.

Heather McIlvaine-Newsad is a Professor of Anthropology at Western Illinois University. Her research focuses on collaborative action for sustainability.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the university or Tri States Public Radio.

Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.