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Our View: What can we do about hunger?

Have there been times in the past 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?

Thankfully, for most families, the answer would be no. The majority of Kentucky families have achieved food stability and are able to provide the necessary amount of food.

However, according to a recent study, 17 percent of households in Kentucky reported they struggled to buy enough food for themselves and their families during 2016-17.

Kentucky ranks among the 20 states with the worst food hardship rates in the report.

Released by the Food Research and Action Center, the “How Hungry is America?” report provides date on food hardship nationally. The findings are based on 337,690 interviews conducted in 2016-17, where subjects were asked if they faced food hardship the past year.

Nationally, the report found, the food hardship rate for all households increased from 15.1 percent in 2016 to 15.7 percent in 2017. The rate for households with children is 1.3 times higher than households without children.

While a less than 1 percent rise might seem slight, the impact is actually significant. This increase comes after several years of declining rates of food hardship in the country.

The rate had previously been dropping annually since the height of the recent recession in 2013, when the rate was 18.9 percent. In 2014, the rate had reduced to 17.2 percent, then to 16 percent in 2015.

Some other key findings of the report include:

— Kentucky ranked 12th in the nation for food hardship (one being the worst), with more than one in six households reporting they had trouble putting food on the table.

— The food hardship rate in Kentucky is considerably higher in households with children, 18.6 percent compared to 16.1 percent, respectively.

— For Louisville/Jefferson County, the food hardship rate was 15.6 percent in 2016–17, giving it a ranking of 47 among 108 metropolitan statistical areas.

Sadly, most people do not realize so many in our community are going without food. As KY Kids Eat Coordinator Kate McDonald noted, often some of the most unsuspecting individuals are facing food insecurity: “Hunger can hide behind doors of nice houses with mortgages in default, with all of the income going to housing costs, leaving little or no money for food. Sometimes it hides behind the stoic faces of parents who skip meals to protect their children from hunger.”

The report notes one factor in food insecurity is a lack of adequate resources. Even with wages, Social Security and other retirement benefits, programs like WIC and SNAP, many families are unable to purchase adequate food supply while paying rent, utilities and other basic needs. Additionally, many working-age adults are unemployed or underemployed.

The report is a reflection of a long-term failure of our nation to address the issues of hunger and poverty. It is critical legislators and policymakers establish changes that strengthen support programs for families in need and provide additional support for the working poor — families with full-time jobs that still struggle to make ends meet.

While we wait for those changes to ensure every American is sufficiently fed, what are some things we can do to help our neighbors who are hungry?

When doing charitable giving this year, consider adding God’s Pantry Food Banks or local agencies that work to fight hunger to your list.

Donate food to local food pantries — such at Clark County Community Services or the Youth Service Centers at schools. Host a food drive at your workplace or church. Consider asking for donations of food for admission to special events that would otherwise be free.

Volunteer at food banks to help distribute food to those who are hungry in your own community.

If you don’t have the means to donate time, money or food, at the very least, advocate for the cause. Talk to others about the struggles of many local families and encourage them to give back when they can.

It’s easy to feel like we can’t impact change, but just a few small actions taken by many can add up to a huge change. That could mean fewer families here in Clark County struggle to put food on the table.