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Promoting A “Green” Culture of Health: Instead of Wasting Food, Getting it to Those Who Need It

Jun 25, 2014, 3:54 PM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

Mercer Street Friends Food Bank Warehouse Trenton

“A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” goes an old slogan of the United Negro College Fund. Another terrible thing to waste is healthy food.

That’s especially true in a nation where 1 in 7 U.S. households are “food insecure”—that is, they lack consistent, dependable access, typically for financial reasons, to “enough food for active, healthy living,” as a U.S. Department of Agriculture report puts it. About 1 in 10 U.S. households have food-insecure children—an equally appalling reality in a country that wastes an estimated 30 to 40 percent of its food supply, or a whopping 133 billion pounds of food in 2010 alone.

In California’s Orange County, however, a solution is at hand—and there’s no reason it couldn’t take hold and spread nationwide. Since 2012, the Waste Not Orange County Coalition, a public-private partnership, has worked to boost donations to local food pantries of surplus healthy food from local restaurants, grocery stores and other facilities. The organization was formed out of the realization that enough food was tossed out every day to feed the nearly 380,000 local residents—almost half of them children—who are deemed food insecure.

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Putting the Great in Grateful

Dec 9, 2013, 11:31 AM, Posted by Joan Barlow

Photo courtesy of Mercer Street Friends Photo courtesy of Mercer Street Friends

We all have the ability to do something great, even if it’s in the smallest gesture.

I love Thanksgiving because it’s “four days, no presents.” There is no need to get caught up in the grind of competitive decorating, shopping ‘til you drop, or agonizing over finding the right gift for that special person. It’s food, family, fun—and, of course, gratitude. After all, you can’t say Thanksgiving without the thanks.

I was lucky to learn at an early age how fortunate I’ve been and I try  to express my gratitude as much as possible. To be healthy, surrounded by family is a true blessing, even when coupled with difficult times. In recent years, I’ve been especially thankful for the opportunity to work at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). My extended family at work is made up of warm, caring people who are passionate about our mission to ensure that all Americans have an opportunity to lead healthy and fulfilling lives—those same opportunities that I’ve been afforded.

In addition to the Foundation’s national efforts, RWJF makes a special effort in its home state of New Jersey. So last week, several colleagues and I volunteered at Mercer Street Friends Food Bank in Trenton—the largest source of government- and privately-donated food in Mercer County. The Food Bank channels 3 million pounds of food annually to the various food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters.

During our day there, we sifted and sorted, checked expiration dates on donated foods, and, because of the time of year, loaded up bags of Thanksgiving fixings for distribution for many of the 25,000 people at risk for hunger in Mercer County. These are families who go without what many of us often take for granted. It was interesting to me that the cellphones never appeared; there wasn’t that tug to keep checking email or follow Twitter feeds. It wasn’t spoken, but I think we all realized that what we were doing was too important, and deserved all our respect and attention. Even though our effort was small—after all, it was only one day—in someone else’s eyes it might be seen as something great.

As we worked, it brought to light for many of us the sheer volume of food needed, as well as what it takes to put together healthy offerings and supplies for the working poor, children in low-income households, the elderly, disabled, and homeless. I also reflected that, while Thanksgiving is a day when we do recognize what others do without, we don’t often remember that these families live in poverty and need our help—not just around Thanksgiving—but all year long. And not having basic everyday necessities, like nutritious food, can severely impact the health of families, particularly children.

So maybe Thanksgiving shouldn’t come only once a year. After all, aren’t we thankful for the things we have every day? The power of gratitude should be recognized as a challenge to be great—even in the smallest of efforts. Maybe that’s the magic about it.

I was proud—no, I was grateful—to work at Mercer Street Friends, and I will do it again. So as we enter the holiday season, count your blessings each and every day and let gratitude drive you to greatness.

Joan Barlow is the Foundation's Creative Services Manager.

Avoid SNAP Judgments

May 22, 2013, 11:41 AM, Posted by Culture of Health Blog Team

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Almost 48 million Americans receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—SNAP, for short. This federal entitlement program helps low-income Americans purchase food for their families, and it encourages healthy eating habits.

Writing in the Huffington Post, RWJF Senior Vice President James S. Marks, MD, MPH, says SNAP's benefits to society are clear, in spite of arguments to the contrary. For every dollar spent on federal food aid, he says, benefits generate $1.72 in economic activity. Of course, SNAP principally helps families alleviate hunger, reap critical nutritional benefits, and combat the nationwide obesity epidemic.

Unfortunately, federal lawmakers are considering ways to take a bite out of SNAP. Two million people would lose food assistance, and more than 200,000 children would stop receiving free school meals under a version of the Farm Bill recently passed by the House Agriculture Committee, Marks asserts. A Senate bill would cut less, he adds, but the reduction in benefits and more stringent eligibility requirements would still be substantial, and damaging to the public's health.

"Fortunately, there is still an opportunity for Congress to chart a different course," Marks suggests. "As we strive for a full economic recovery and a healthier nation, supporting SNAP is both the right thing to do and the smart thing to do."

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