Hunger isn’t just a problem for underdeveloped nations.
It’s an issue, right here, in Kansas City and the surrounding region. And it extends well beyond the homeless community or poverty-stricken families.
An estimated 350,000 people in the metropolitan region are hungry or faced with the threat of hunger1. That’s about one in every seven residents; and 100,000 of them are children.
When hungry, children don’t learn as well in school and employees aren’t as productive on the job. Some individuals are forced to make heart-wrenching choices, such as watering down milk to get more use out of it or forgoing groceries to pay the rent. And stress can be as palpable as hunger when they’re unsure about when and where they’ll get their next nutritious meal.
As the area’s largest locally based health insurance provider, Blue KC understands the connection between health and hunger. Studies have shown that hunger plays a key role in the development of chronic diseases including depression, diabetes, hypertension and anxiety, all of which can impose a severe economic burden on society in general and the healthcare system in particular.
Indeed, we estimate that the direct healthcare costs tied to chronic diseases – many of which are exacerbated by hunger – annually exceed more than $1 billion for adults in the Kansas City area, and more than $23 million in children. The Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City has even developed the Cost of Food Insecurity Calculator to pinpoint the impact of hunger on a business or a community, as a step to reducing it.
Undoubtedly, access to nutritious food is key to a healthy community and each of us can play a role in building a healthier community, one in which everyone has the healthy food they need to thrive.
You can help
September is Hunger Action Month. Here are a few ways each of us can take action to help in September and throughout the year – on our own, or working in tandem with the many non-profit groups striving to ease the burden of hunger in our area:
- Gleaning. Historically, gleaning is the collection of leftover crops from farmers’ fields after they have been harvested. But you don’t have to be on a farm to glean. Once a month, go through your pantry and set aside any nonperishable food you no longer plan to use for donation. Or you can schedule your work or community group to participate in a “real” gleaning with After the Harvest, a hunger relief organization. Blue KC employees recently spent a satisfying morning doing just that, gleaning more than 1,300 pounds of fresh corn, cucumbers, watermelon and zucchini leftover from recent harvests at a local farm.
- Plant a Row for the Hungry (PAR). If you’re one of the many individuals and families in Kansas City that enjoying gardening, you could plant an extra row of fruits and vegetables and donate that produce to our longtime partner Harvesters – The Community Food Network, which has nine PAR drop-off sites throughout the region. Last year, area gardeners donated more than 10,000 pounds of fresh produce through the program.
- Talk the Talk. While it impacts thousands of our neighbors, hunger is often a hidden problem. Share the word with friends, neighbors and co-workers, and encourage them to participate in one of the many fundraising and awareness-raising activities, to volunteer at a food bank or to donate food to one of the many agencies focused on this problem.
Earlier this year, Blue KC introduced Well Stocked, a new community impact initiative focused on increasing access to nutritious food in underserved areas in Kansas City. Working with Harvesters, we will use food and funds donated by our 1,000 employees this year to provide healthy meals to children and families via the Harvester network of more than 620 agencies across the region.
Well Stocked will provide education and access to nutritious food by partnering with Harvesters and other local organizations. Each event, activity and donation will bring us one step closer to lessening the impact of this year-round problem.
Hunger takes a severe toll on the Kansas City community, but together we can give those who are hungry or at risk for hunger a fresh start – one nutritious meal at a time.
1 Feeding America, Map the Meal Gap 2018 Report: http://map.feedingamerica.org.