Perspectives Online

Hunger is topic of EFNEP’s 40th anniversary event

EFNEP’s 40th anniversary was reflected in the décor at the Hunger Issues Forum.
Photo by Becky Kirkland

With hunger in the United States at a 14-year high, a Hunger Issues Forum was held at N.C. State University’s McKimmon Center on Dec. 4. The event was also a celebration of 40 years of N.C. Cooperative Extension’s Expanded Foods and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP). Started in 1969, EFNEP’s mission is to help limited-resource families and youth make good nutrition decisions with their limited food dollars.

The Hunger Issues Forum comes on the heels of a recent announcement by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that “food insecurity” in the United States had reached the 14-year high in 2009. The group that tracks hunger reported that as a result of the poor economy, job losses and higher food prices, 13 million additional Americans experienced some form of food insecurity this year, and food stamp rolls have swelled to a record 36 million Americans.

Keynote speakers for the forum were Dr. Maureen Berner, associate professor in the UNC School of Government, and Dr. Sharon Paynter, assistant professor of political science at East Carolina University. The two spoke on “A True Portrait of Hunger in North Carolina: How Local Governments and Non-Profits Coordinate and Energize to Address Hunger.” Their presentation included photos by Donn Young of Chapel Hill, who is helping capture images of hunger today in North Carolina at the state’s food pantries.

Breakout session topics and presenters included “Hunger, Nutrition and Obesity,” Heather Hartline-Grafton, senior nutrition policy analyst, Food Research and Action Center (FRAC); “Connecting People to Food,” David Reese, chief operating officer, Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, Raleigh; and “Mobilizing Community Resources to Reduce Hunger,” Earline Middleton, vice president of programs, Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, Raleigh.

Among participants were N.C. A&T’s Dr. Celvia Stovall (left) and N.C. State’s Dr. Joe Zublena (right).
Photo by Becky Kirkland
Paynter and Berner described how they are trying to develop a picture of hunger in North Carolina by looking at records maintained by food pantries across the state. The goal of their project is to understand hunger through solid research and to generate dialogue on the issue.

Both speakers have found that food pantry clients often defy stereotypes of hunger. Many of those receiving assistance are employed, and often they are older and have some health issues. Many times they live in a comfortable home – they simply don’t earn enough to make ends meet. Many of those served by food pantries are in need of long-term assistance.

In the breakout session on obesity, Hartline-Grafton described the link between obesity and hunger. Those in poverty often have little access to fresh, healthy food choices or safe and inviting places for recreation. And binge eating, followed by hunger, is often the norm for those who struggle with food security.

In addition to new information from speakers, forum participants returned home with toolkits to help them conduct hunger data surveys in their own communities. The toolkits also included photos from the Portrait of Hunger project.

The theme of the forum already had inspired EFNEP educators to take action. In Lee County, the EFNEP unit decided to forgo their annual holiday party in favor of volunteering in Raleigh at the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle.

Also as part of the forum, EFNEP Champion Awards were presented to EFNEP volunteers, Extension employees and partners for outstanding service to their communities.

When EFNEP began in North Carolina, the program was mainly conducted through home visits to participants. Today most of EFNEP’s educational workshops are delivered in group settings, often in collaboration with agencies serving limited-resource populations, such as the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program or Work First.

EFNEP seeks to give participants knowledge to help them make improvements in their diets and physical activity levels. In North Carolina, last year more than 4,500 families participated in EFNEP’s adult program. In addition, more than 200 pregnant or parenting teens participated, along with more than 14,000 youth who participated in 4-H EFNEP.

— Natalie Hampton