Food insecurity is a significant problem people face in the state of Kentucky. One in six Kentuckians identify as food insecure and one in five Kentucky children struggle with hunger. A food insecure household does not always have food on hand or enough money to go out and purchase food. People who are food insecure often do not know where their next meal will come from. These startling statistics led the Kentucky Association of Food Banks (now Feeding Kentucky) to organize an annual event known as Kentucky Hunger Free Day several years ago. A group from Bellarmine University consisting of Food Recovery Network members, leaders of the on-campus food pantry planning committee, and other concerned students and faculty attended this year’s Kentucky Hunger Free Day. The February 20th gathering marked the sixth year of this event and the first time that a group of Bellarmine University students, faculty, and staff attended the event. I attended as the president of Bellarmine’s Food Recovery Network (FRN) chapter and as a representative from the food pantry planning committee.
We traveled to the state capitol building in Frankfort, Kentucky from Louisville for the event. The day was jam-packed with a variety of different ways people could get involved fighting the issue of food insecurity in Kentucky. Over the course of the day, our group attended meetings with Kentucky State Representatives, like Julie Raque Adams, and listened to addresses from government officials, like Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. We also listened to speeches from leaders of organizations working to end hunger in the Bluegrass state. We attended a state Senate session in order to get a better understanding of the workings of our state government.
It was very enlightening to network with new people and organizations and to explore the political side of food security issues. Our Food Recovery Network chapter deals mostly with local issues like food waste on campus and food insecurity in our immediate community, so it was also very helpful to see what is happening in the rest of our state. Kentucky is growing its number of FRN chapters, with the recent additions of the University of Louisville and Western Kentucky University, but we still have room to grow.
This experience provided our FRN chapter with an incredible opportunity to network with other organizations that share our cause. It also provided us the chance to meet some of the people affected by food insecurity in Kentucky. We met with people from Dare to Care, who donate food to our on-campus food pantry. They talked about how excited they were for a college group to be there, which made our attendance all the more meaningful. One of the major policy issues we helped advocate for was removing the sales tax requirements being forced on Kentucky nonprofits, which pull money away from providing more food and resources to the people they serve.
One of the most special moments for me was when we heard Pastor Rob Beckett talk about how food insecurity affects the majority of his congregation. His church does all it can, but sometimes they need help from other groups. He explained that Kentucky Hunger Free Day offers a chance for him to network with other groups and share his story. He talked about the importance of the Farms to Food Banks program that Kentucky has, which incentivizes local farmers to donate fresh produce to food banks, thus benefiting all involved. Pastor Beckett said people’s faces light up when they get fresh food, and I thought this was so relevant to hear. I think it’s so important to provide people not just with food, but with fresh and healthy foods, and I was so happy to hear about this program.
Overall, this trip was an eye-opening experience that allowed our FRN chapter to branch out and learn more about the extent of the food security issue in our state and different political and economic avenues we could take to solve it. We definitely recommend taking advantage of an opportunity like this if you have one available in your state. If not, we encourage you to start a gathering of food security organizations in your state so you can share information, resources, and support, creating a stronger base for solving this issue. Kentucky Hunger Free Day is an example of a big step in the right direction towards fighting food insecurity.