What Others Say: UW students shine a light on food insecurity

By Vilas News-Review, Posted on January 2, 2024

It is no surprise that food insecurity is a global problem. As students at the UW-Madison, there are students all over campus struggling to access food, even if it is not explicitly shown.

People everywhere struggle to put food on the table, especially healthy food. Yet, we never realized the extent to which the condition of not having access to sufficient food impacts rural communities right here in Wisconsin until meeting with Feed Our Rural Kids (FORK).

Nearly 1 in 8 Americans experience food insecurity at some point in their life, according to CNBC. Food insecurity does not discriminate — it impacts people of all backgrounds. Yet, we know that it impacts children exponentially more severely than adults, with a child 52% more likely to be food insecure in Wisconsin than an adult.

As we moved through our Building Financial Assets and Capability for Vulnerable Families course, we learned in 2022, about 7.3 million children lived in food-insecure households, and the physical and mental health effects could last into adulthood, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Eager to help, we met with Perry Pokrandt, president and founder of FORK, to learn more about the organization and the food support FORK offers to so many families struggling to put enough healthy food on their table.

FORK is a nonprofit organization with the goal of helping children from food-insecure homes gain nutritional support.

Based in northern Wisconsin, FORK serves the children of the Northland Pines, Three Lakes, and Phelps school districts. In the two counties, Vilas and Oneida, that contain these districts, a common misconception about food insecurity is that it is only prevalent in metropolitan areas.

This assumption is completely false as a child living in northern Wisconsin, Vilas or Oneida counties, is nearly 20% more likely to be food insecure than the average child living in Wisconsin.

It is clear, food insecurity is widespread in rural areas, including those previously mentioned.

And with food inflation rising this year, meals are becoming even more expensive.

In Wisconsin, the average meal cost has risen in recent years by $0.50, from $2.98 in 2022 to $3.13 in 2023, but that average meal cost in Vilas County is nearly 20% higher, at $3.73, according to data from Feeding America.

While these cost differences may only seem like a handful of change, the growing price adds up, especially for those already struggling.

Additionally, the importance of substantial food goes down when it is easier for parents to afford snacks and overall a lower quality of nutrition. In children especially, a lack of food can lead to stress, behavioral problems, and trouble concentrating on the important things like school.

The Food Research and Action Center researched the importance of school breakfast programs for children across the country. They have found that improving dietary intake increases academic achievement and reduces student absenteeism, among other benefits.

FORK has acknowledged these statements and dedicated its efforts to help children in low-income households gain reliable and nutritious food. FORK is divided into three sub-group support programs: FORK Cares, FORK Now, and 10 individual FORK Pantry locations across the community.

Each program offers unique services that provide food to any child who wishes to attend, focusing on those living at a 130% poverty level.

We agree with FORK in that nobody should feel shame for getting help; thus, FORK is completely free and confidential. They do not take any data, names, or record of who uses their services and, rather, rely on a needs-based community agreement.

While FORK is based in Wisconsin, we want to foster a connection between insecure families across the nation. By building a network of families all driven by the same problem, we hope to reduce the stigma surrounding food insecurity and let people know about resources like FORK that are working to bridge the gap.

By Ella Sandstrom, Sam Goldberg, Blake Zamler and Marlo Pulliam

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