Creating Conversation on Hunger in Our Community

This column visits the faces of those who have benefited from the generous and tireless work of the nonprofits on the Mid-Shore. Perhaps unknown to many of us, these individuals have had their lives transformed by the missions of these organizations and are giving back in unique ways to better our world. Amelia has been a freelance writer in our community for over 15 years and offers a glimpse into the lives of residents on the Mid-Shore whom she has met along the way.

Sometimes our best community efforts start from a conversation that develops between like-minded people. Such was the case for the Talbot County Hunger Coalition, which got started in 2014 after Talbot Family Network sponsored a community showing of the documentary, “A Place at the Table.” Working with public agencies, child serving programs, churches and food pantries, the Talbot Family Network invited the public to step up and help be part of the solution for ending hunger in our communities.

Sharon Morrison (left), program coordinator of the Community Nutrition and Gardening Education Project, Eagle Arrow Scout Jayke Conner, who built the garden beds and benches, and Catherine Poe, Chairman of the Talbot County Hunger Coalition and Vice President of the Board of Talbot Family Network, show off produce grown in the garden at Easton Elementary School. The Talbot County Hunger Coalition helped get gardens started at both Easton Elementary and St. Michaels Elementary Schools through a grant from the Talbot Family Network. The grant funded a coordinator to teach nutrition and start community and school gardens in the county.

Jan Willis, then Executive Director of Talbot Family Network, had identified through the 2013 Needs Assessment of Talbot County that hunger was a common problem everyone was talking about in the county.

She recalls, “Talbot Family Network worked with community organizations to gather more information and develop strategies to address this foundational issue. One of the strategies identified was to make the circle wider, utilizing one of Talbot County’s best natural resources – its generous and empathic citizens – to surround this problem.”

Today, Talbot County Hunger Coalition (TCHC) is a network of community members, providers and caring individuals working together with the Talbot Family Network, its parent organization, to end hunger and improve access to healthy, nutritious food for Talbot County’s most vulnerable residents.

According to Catherine Poe, Chairman of the Talbot County Hunger Coalition and Vice President of the Board of Talbot Family Network, one in five Talbot County children are food insecure and 11 percent of Talbot residents are food insecure. She adds, “While we have 16 food pantries and five meal providers in Talbot County, a county of 38,000 people, residents are still going hungry. By establishing the Coalition, we have been able to coordinate these food services.”

The Coalition’s goal is to build awareness about Talbot County’s food pantries and meal providers with the general public and with those people who need the services – the underserved.

Katie Savon, Talbot Family Network’s current Executive Director, comments, “The TCHC is impacting food insecurity in Talbot County by educating the public surrounding the severity of the issue. As a result, there’s been an increase in donations to local food pantries.”

According to Catherine, since the Coalition formed, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which provides person-to-person service to help those in need, regardless of race, creed, gender or religion, has extended its overages to all the food pantries and food providers in Talbot County. Other examples of the overages being shared with food pantries and meal providers has included The Easton Church of God’s Harvest of Hope, providing Thanksgiving meals to be distributed over the holiday; the Neighborhood Service Center in Easton distributing excess chickens; and the Easton Farmers’ Market vendors providing leftover produce after the market closes on Saturdays to the Neighborhood Service Center.

The Coalition also partners with for-profit companies in addressing hunger in Talbot County. To date, these public/private partnerships have included BJs, Harris Teeter, Acme, Giant, Panera Bread, Teddy Bear Fresh and Food Lion. Ryan and Emily Groll, owners of Eat Sprout in Trappe, a healthy meal provider in the county, joined the effort by showing students at Easton and St. Michaels Elementary Schools this spring how to make a healthy “no bake” chewy bar that they could make at home using basic ingredients from their pantries.

Ryan comments, “Because we sent the snacks home to the families, along with the recipes, we got feedback about how much they liked the idea, as well as requests for how to modify the recipe for certain health issues and food allergies.”

According to the Coalition’s literature, 17 percent of Talbot County’s children live below the poverty line and 44 percent are receiving free or reduced-price school meals.

Ryan adds, “I have always had a passion to tell people about why we eat certain foods and why they are good for us. We can bridge what we are doing in promoting meals to our customers locally, to include those in need in our community.”

Ryan Groll, owner with his wife Emily of Eat Sprout in Trappe, showed students at elementary schools this year how to make a healthy “no bake” chewy bar that they could make at home using basic ingredients from their pantries.

The Coalition also seeks to educate citizens through printed materials at community events and festivals. This includes helping to connect struggling individuals and families with local programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Free and Reduced-price School Meals, and CarePacks, as well as the 16 food pantries in Talbot County. The Coalition even distributes free recipe books to provide ideas for economical meals by season. Reaching out to other community partners to help spread the word has included working with such organizations as the Talbot County Free Library, Chesapeake MRC, Interfaith Coalition Against Hunger, Empty Bowls and the YMCA Chesapeake.

The TCHC provides a monthly newsletter to the food pantries in the county, which get together to network every other month. According to Catherine, the focus is on community groups sharing what they are doing. She comments, “We are removing the silos we all work in and are now talking to one another, working together and soliciting support from the community together. We hope to facilitate donations to all of the organizations through the awareness we are building.”

Each year, between February and March, the Talbot County Hunger Coalition invites the public to participate in a Food Stamp Challenge, living on $33 a week, which is what nearly 10% of Talbot County residents live on who are receiving Food Stamps. The challenge shows citizens how difficult it is to resource food for one individual for this amount of money. Participants are given a list of participating Food Pantries to help with the challenge. During this year’s event, the Coalition asked people who are were unable to take the Food Stamp Challenge, to write a check for $33 to their nearest food pantry.

According to Catherine, this year was the first year that the organization got a grant from the Talbot Family Network to fund a coordinator to teach nutrition and start community and school gardens in the county. The gardens, coordinated through the 4-H Club, involved students in planting and tending the gardens, with produce going home with the students after school; again, fulfilling the organization’s purpose to improve access to healthy, nutritious food.

Catherine states, “I am afraid we are still uncovering need in our community, especially among the elderly and Hispanic populations. We still have an issue on the Shore with transportation and connecting people to the food resources.”

For further information about how you can get involved in impacting Talbot County’s hunger issue, contact Catherine Poe at catpoe@TCHC@gmail.com or visit feedtalbot.org or Talbot County Hunger Coalition on Facebook.

 

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