By Priscilla Rodriguez & Alexandra Fradelizio | m/Oppenheim.Org Writer
While many of us are already planning what our next meal will be today, thousands of families and individuals across the U.S. are going hungry, not knowing when they might be able to eat again.
A seemingly simple decision to walk over to the grocery store and purchase some food is not possible for a family who has no money left after paying for rent and health insurance; for a person who has run out of supplemental funds for the month; for a single mother, who has to work three or four jobs to feed her children and pay the bills.
Why is it that in a wealthy country like the U.S., children and seniors are still going entire days without eating meals? And why are families who are working hard are barely able to put any food on the table?
The answer is complex, and yet it all stems from one place: poverty.
“People are working one or more jobs and their wages are not making ends meet,” says Teva Sienicki, CEO of Metro Caring, a nonprofit dedicated to ending hunger and making nutritious food accessible to all the families and individuals of Denver, Colorado.
“Some people have worked their whole lives and are now trying to survive on social security, and there some who are disabled and cannot survive on their benefits,” she explains.
To Sienicki, this scenario is all too familiar in the region of Denver. Despite ranking number one in the U.S. for its economy, Denver’s people are still going hungry, with one in six children and one in ten seniors lacking access to food.
This cycle of hunger is prevalent all across the country, and organizations like Metro Caring are working day in and day out to find solutions to this manifold issue.
Metro Caring has been around since the 70s and is now closing in on its 45th year of helping people access free, healthy, and nutritious foods. Today, the organization’s free, fresh food market is visited by more than 500 families per week, and overall, the organization reaches 30,000 people annually through its market, cooking classes, food programs, and public gardens.
Over the years, however, the organization has taken a more holistic approach to solving the issue of hunger by involving the community.
“We’re starting with our community, which we believe is our biggest asset, and we’re evaluating our strengths and how we can connect people to each other and to resources,” says Sienicki.
Though Metro Caring knows that it is important to provide for people’s immediate food needs, Sienicki says it is equally important to get the community involved in the process of unraveling the root problems.
Other issues, like a lack of affordable housing or wages that are far too low for anyone to survive on, exacerbate the already difficult task of affording and preparing basic foods, much less nutritious foods.
At Metro Caring’s free food market, those who are in need can freely visit the market and select whichever fruits, veggies, and grains they wish for themselves and their families at zero cost – “no questions asked.”
“We want it to be very much like going to any grocery store,” says Sienicki.
Beyond meeting people’s immediate food needs, Metro Caring works on building a community of informed, knowledgeable participants that will one day be able to live independently and even help others access healthy meals. The organization’s community gardens and cooking classes, for example, offer a great learning opportunity, and its volunteer roster is full of people who are connecting with each other and working toward a common goal every day.
While Metro Caring is tackling many of the issues at hand, there is still a lot that needs to be done to end hunger. Even something as seemingly small as the stigma around needing food assistance could prevent someone from accessing a meal that they need to survive.
That’s why Metro Caring’s goals for the future include rounding up more resources and also empowering the community to help each other out.
“We want to invest in the development of our communities so that they can be vocal and powerful advocates for their own well-being and success,” says Sienicki.