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Food insecurity combated by local organization

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In 2012, 12,870 of Athens community members were suffering from food insecurity, according to Feeding America. Food insecurity as defined by the USDA is, “consistent access to adequate food being limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.”

Areas without access to nutrient-rich foods have higher than average levels of chronic diseases like type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension, and studies have also shown a high correlation between food insecurity and crime. There is a group right here in Athens fighting against these exact issues.

Community Food Initiatives (CFI) assists the Athens community in their access to fresh, healthy food through three specific avenues: community garden programs, school gardens and a donation station they operate. These colorful fruits, vegetables and plants are grown right here in Appalachian Ohio, by local farmers.

The initiatives they undertake stimulate the local economy, help individuals and families to grow food, develop cooking skills and reduce their health risks by eating whole, healthy, nutritious foods. Since 2008 when the Donation Station began, over 338,526 pounds of food have been distributed to area food pantries and social service agencies; an average of over 132 pounds of food per day.

“We don’t need, nor should we expect, people from outside our community to come in and offer solutions. In fact, once we redefine wealth we can see that we have a lot of resources right here that can be used to solve our own social and economic issues,” said Mary Nally, the Executive Director of CFI.

Nally and her small staff are running the only organization offering support for community and food gardens in South Eastern Ohio.

The school gardens are an excellent, positive outlet for our children, said Nally. In line with CFI’s sustainability goals, they aim to educate children while they are young as another way to curb food insecurity. Kids will know how to utilize the healthy food they have all around them, and hopefully this, in addition with CFI’s other initiatives, will decrease food insecurity here at home.

CFI manages community gardens on the south and east sides of Athens, as well as at Carriage Hill and Hope Drive apartments.

“It is the goal of the community and our goal, that they will be able to take long-term management with some support from us where they need it,”Nally said.

While the food insecurity problem is not unique to Athens, or even Ohio, neighboring Vinton County has it especially rough. They have not had a grocery store in several years; residents have to drive nearly an hour in any direction to have access to fresh food. CFI is expanding their donation stations in Vinton County, distributing food to pantries and social service agencies, and doing ‘discovery kitchen’ classes where they teach hands-on cooking using seasonal ingredients.

“We want to do more than just give away free food to people who are hungry,” Nally said. She and CFI are all about sustainability, and helping the community to help themselves.

Building capacity is the biggest challenge they face, and funding is a continuous struggle. In 2014, 85 percent of the money CFI was able to use came from either grants or donations, and with so many individuals in the community living day-to-day without the food they need to sustain themselves, Community Food Initiatives encourages anyone and everyone to help in any way that they can.

Visit http://www.communityfoodinitiatives.org/ to learn more.

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