Opinion – Melissa McDonald: Kentucky must face the reality of hunger in our communities

Kentucky’s silent crisis: food insecurity.

The recently released 2024 Map the Meal Gap report (2022 data) exposes the harsh reality that thousands of Kentuckians daily struggle to put food on the table and they’re afraid to ask for help.

Map the Meal Gap data paints a sobering picture:

• 20.7% of Kentucky children live in food-insecure households up from 15.2% in 2021.

• Nearly 210,000 kids across Kentucky are unsure where their next meal will come from.

• In Eastern Kentucky, 1 in 5 individuals face food insecurity.

• Hunger knows no geography or demographics in Kentucky. Across ages and locations, hunger is rampant.

Melissa McDonald (Photo provided)

The roots of this crisis run deep. Poverty, unemployment, lack of housing and inadequate access to nutritious food are all contributors. In rural areas, where jobs are scarcer and supermarkets few and far between, residents face additional barriers to food security and access to affordable, healthy options.

With heavy but determined hearts, Feeding Kentucky and our member food banks are fighting every day to meet the needs of the individuals and communities we serve, but with inflation and rising costs, the needs far outpaces our current limits.

Initiatives like our Farms to Food Banks program are innovative ways to address some of these challenges. Recently, No Kid Hungry Kentucky, a public-private coalition between No Kid Hungry and Feeding Kentucky, invested over $159,000 in grants to help ten organizations across the state provide more kids with summer meals.

But addressing food insecurity in Kentucky requires a collective effort from our state government, businesses, nonprofits, and communities. It demands bold action and unwavering commitment to ensure that every Kentuckian can access the food they need to thrive.

We can’t end hunger in this state, or this country, if we don’t work together. That’s why I’m calling on every Kentuckian to do what they can to help us end hunger. I have some ideas to get us started.

We need our government leaders to support a strong Farm Bill that fortifies The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Commodity Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (CSFP).

Kentuckians need to pick up their phones and call their legislators to advocate for a strong Farm Bill that connects more people to nutritious food programs and empower individuals to meet their basic needs and build a brighter future.

We need more produce to be able to support our food banks across the state, so I’m calling on the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and Kentucky farmers to support our Farms to Food Banks program.

We need more schools and school districts supporting the Kentucky Kids Eat program and helping students and families access meals throughout the summer months. Kentucky kids deserve nutrition 365 days a year. During the school year, Kentucky’s educators are doing a great job feeding our children. Thank you for all you have done, but I ask that all schools promote and serve breakfast.

And, we need each of you to help support us in our fight to end hunger. By visiting feedingky.org, you can donate and find volunteer opportunities.

Only by working together can we bridge the hunger gap and build a brighter, healthier future for all Kentuckians.

Melissa McDonald is the executive director of Feeding Kentucky, the Commonwealth’s partner association of Feeding America, and statewide network of seven member food banks.

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