Hunger reduction advocates see results in Central Florida



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Hunger reduction advocates see results in Central Florida

By Derek Maul | Dec. 16, 2009 {1112}

Some positive results are giving Florida United Methodists reason to be optimistic about their efforts to reduce childhood hunger. They also show there’s still much more to do.

Children get ready to eat lunch at United Methodist Summer Food Service Program site. File photo by Derek Maul. Photo #09-1280. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #1062, 8/6/09.

Statistics published by the Tallahassee-based nonprofit Florida Impact show an estimated 4,500 more children in Orange County participated in the federal Summer Food Service Program this year — an increase of 66 percent and an estimated 315,000 more meals served than in 2008. The Central Florida area also received more than $764,000 in additional funding for the program — a 68 percent increase.

These gains, Florida Impact leaders say, resulted from an increase in the number of food program sites available and an aggressive marketing campaign by organizations involved with the Florida Partnership to End Childhood Hunger. Central Florida served as a pilot project to encourage participation in the food program, which was established by Congress in 1968 to eliminate hunger in children ages 18 and younger when schools are closed for the summer.

The Florida Conference is a partner in those efforts. The conference works collaboratively with other organizations as part of the Partnership to End Childhood Hunger, which is administered by Florida Impact. And at the 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event, members voted on and approved a conference-wide social witness initiative to address a variety of children’s issues, including a mandate to stimulate ministries that specifically target child hunger in Florida.

The Florida Department of Education administers the food program in Florida. Florida Impact is a sponsor, handling administrative and financial responsibilities and working with vendors that provide the meals. Schools, parks, churches and other nonprofit organizations serve as feeding sites, often in tandem with education, literacy, recreation and other enrichment activities.

More needed to ‘get job done’

The recent gains reveal a startling gap, however, according to Lynette Fields, the conference’s appointee to the Core Advisory Group for the Partnership To End Childhood Hunger and executive director of Servant Ministry at Orlando’s St. Luke’s United Methodist Church.

“We still have 96,000 kids in Orange County who qualify,” she said, “and the number (68 percent increase) still represents less than 7,000 children. We simply don’t know how many are hungry.”

Like Fields, Melinda Trotti recognizes the critical dimensions of the need. “It’s all about connecting the dots — joining the pieces,” she said. “(It’s) identifying local churches in feeding-site areas and partnering with congregations that have resources to help.”

As director of the conference’s justice and outreach ministries, Trotti is responsible for helping coordinate the local church and conference response to children’s issues.

“I empower and educate local churches as to how they can be more effective in ending hunger,” she said. “Hunger has been my passion.”

Trotti believes it is in United Methodist DNA to get the job done. “I’m very optimistic,” she said. “At the moment we have a ‘canned peas’ mentality, meaning we do small acts in response to needs. But we can be more strategic in our actions. This is our chance.”

“We started our involvement two years ago,” Fields said. “United Methodist churches are strategically located — we’re everywhere; we have the sites and the volunteers. This has ‘United Methodist’ written all over it. We live out partnership. That’s part of who we are.”

The challenge, both Trotti and Fields say, is to activate more United Methodist congregations to achieve the not unreasonable goal of ending childhood hunger in 10 years.

“I told the annual conference, ‘Ten years down the road. Won’t it be wonderful; we didn’t stand by,’ ” Fields said.

Churches interested in participating in the meal program may contact Trotti at mtrotti@flumc.org or 800-282-8011, extension 504, or Florida Impact Child Nutrition Coordinator Ebony Faith Yarbrough at ebonyfaith@flimpact.org or 850-309-1488.

More information about Florida Impact is available at http://www.flimpact.org. A “Child Food Insecurity in the United States” report is available at http://www.feedingamerica.org.

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News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011, tparham@flumc.org, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Maul is an author and freelance writer based in Valrico, Fla.




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