Gleaners Community Food Bank, in collaboration with other food banks across the state, just completed a Paper Plate Campaign, collecting 400 plates to present in Washington, D.C. as budget negotiations come to a head. Ariana Riegel, our Lutheran Volunteer Corps staff member who is collecting the plates for us at Gleaners, plans to drop them off at the congressional district offices next week.
The plates symbolize the need for food programs and have messages from emergency food users and volunteers. At a time when unemployment and the need for food assistance is high, we are sending a message to please protect safety net programs that are on the chopping block as the legislature addresses federal budget issues.
Here are some of the messages the plates have conveyed:
“I don’t want you to stop the food stamp program because that’s all I have to help me with my food each month.”
“The food assistance program has been a saving grace for myself and my children during these hard economic times. Please continue to help those less fortunate by not cutting food programs for the needy.”
As a coordinator of Gleaners’ Cooking Matters, I work with low-income families every day who are struggling to provide the best possible nourishment possible for their families. Our program teaches adults, kids and teens how to maximize their nutritional dollars. End-of-course surveys report some meaningful outcomes among our participants, many who share with us that they are cooking more at home and incorporating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains into their diets. But programs like our nutrition education classes are at risk if there are cuts to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funds.
The Census Bureau reported earlier this month that the nation’s official poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2009. This is the third consecutive annual increase in the poverty rate. There were 46.2 million people in poverty in 2010, up from 43.6 million in 2009 ─ the fourth consecutive annual increase and the largest number in the 52 years for which poverty estimates have been published.
More people will be forced to seek assistance from food banks and other agencies, many of which are already struggling to meet this record need. The Paper Plate Campaign provided an easy, open-ended and powerful way to advocate – and gave voice to the great needs that are present every day in southeast Michigan.