Have you ever been unsure of when your next meal would come?
If your refrigerator and kitchen cabinets are stocked with your favorite foods right now, that question may seem a little strange—it’s not something many of us have had to ask ourselves before. In fact, we typically don’t ever think about access to food—it’s always just been there.
But for millions of U.S. Americans, eating is not a given. Many of our neighbors begin and end each day – every day – hungry. It’s called food insecurity, and it affects over 10% of households nationwide.
Food Insecurity in Our Neighborhoods
Montgomery County may be one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, but food insecurity is still an issue for thousands of its residents. According to Feeding America, 8.6% of the county struggled with hunger in 2019. Neighboring Prince George’s County didn’t fare much better—7.3% of its residents experienced hunger in the same year. And keep in mind: these statistics are from a year before the pandemic, meaning the numbers have since risen significantly.
It’s a big problem when so many of our neighbors cannot feed themselves or their families. And to make matters worse, those at a greater risk of food insecurity already face many barriers in our society.
Disparities in Food Access
BIPOC Americans are far more likely to experience food insecurity than white Americans. Data from the USDA suggests that 19.1% of Black and 15.6% of Hispanic U.S. households live with food insecurity, compared to only 7.9% of white households (a number below the national average.) Also at risk are adults with disabilities and those who didn’t graduate from high school.
And when children are involved, the situation becomes even more critical. Households with children are more than 1.5 times likely to experience food insecurity, affecting more than five million children nationwide. Since the pandemic, the number has more than doubled, forcing millions of young minds to navigate remote learning on empty stomachs.
Food inaccessibility is a terrible injustice in our society. Everyone needs to eat, and that’s a right within itself that shouldn’t be denied to anyone. But even more, everyone deserves nutritious, fulfilling meals without barrier. Thankfully, there’s a program that helps ease the burden of food insecurity for families in need.
Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
WIC is a federally mandated nutrition program available across the country to qualified pregnant and postpartum women, infants, and children. CCI operates five WIC locations in Maryland and acts as the largest service provider in the state. In 2020, we fielded nearly 30,000 WIC service appointments.
So what exactly does WIC do? The program empowers families to purchase healthy foods. Every month, participants receive WIC food credits that can be used to buy enough quantities of fresh produce, protein, baby food, and more—all at no cost to them. Participants are allowed to choose which products they want, providing them with the dignity to shop with their health and preference in mind. Watch this video to see what it’s like to shop with WIC credits.
Education also plays a key role in the WIC program. New and expecting mothers receive personalized breastfeeding counseling while licensed nutritionists provide guidance on maintaining a well-balanced diet. These additional services ensure that families create and sustain healthy eating habits long after their need for WIC services ends. Check out this video on the WIC experience.
CCI’s Food is Medicine Program
For decades, the WIC program has been a lifeline for millions of low-income families, and the program has gone a long way in combatting food insecurity. But not everyone qualifies for WIC services, leaving thousands of our most vulnerable neighbors susceptible to hunger and malnutrition.
Recognizing the need in our community, CCI created our Food is Medicine program to address and tackle food insecurity in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Though still early in its development, this innovative program will soon be an essential component of our comprehensive health services.
Food is Medicine will provide eligible participants with direct access to fresh and varied produce by delivering it right to their doorsteps. The program will also feature specialized nutrition counseling and the opportunity for participants to attend cooking demonstrations led by local chefs—completely free of charge.
“What you eat, where it comes from and how much it costs you are interwoven into health , wealth and well being,” said Dr. Sonya Bruton, CCI CEO and President. “Extending nutrition counseling beyond children in our WIC program to the entire family and awarding subscriptions for home deliver of fruits and vegetables were the next steps in removing the barriers that create limitations in those categories.”
Taking a Stand Against Hunger
No one person is powerful enough to stop a problem as complex as hunger, but each person has the power to do their share. No matter who you are, you can join us in being part of the solution. Here are three actions that you can take – starting today – to help alleviate hunger and foster food security in the community.
Minimize your waste
U.S. consumers waste a pound of food a day. Food waste may seem like a victimless crime, but not only does it cause adverse effects on the environment, it further enables hunger and food insecurity in the community.
Before you reach for the trash can, think twice about what you’re throwing out. If it’s a piece of produce with a bit of mold on it, the odds are that it’s still safe to consume—simply cut off the moldy part. If you’ve cooked too much, consider freezing the leftovers to eat later (many foods can be stored for months on end.) And if you just didn’t like a product you purchased or a meal you made, share it with a neighbor—it may be their favorite!
Remember that the food you’re discarding could have been a meal for someone else. Try to express gratitude for what you have—and you may come to look at food waste a little bit differently.
The grocery store can serve as an important tool in ending – or enabling – food insecurity. Mindful shopping habits can help us resist bad behaviors and our tendencies to overconsume.
Make sure to shop on a full stomach. If you shop hungry, you’ll be more likely to make purchases that you otherwise wouldn’t have, increasing the chances that the food you buy will be wasted. Also, be sure enter the grocery store with a list—and stick to it!
Discounts are great, but they can also be an invitation for excess. Take advantage of sales you come across, but also keep yourself in check—only buy what you need and maybe a little extra, but don’t purchase something just because you can!
Finally, many grocery stores offer donation food bins for local nonprofits, shelters, and food banks. Donating food is a quick and easy way to do your share in fighting hunger. Whenever you can, always try and leave a food donation to help another. Ask a staff member in your local grocery store if they take donations—and if they don’t, encourage them to do so!
Write to your elected officials
Hunger can be a bit of a removed issue for most of us. Unless you have directly experienced it, it’s hard to know what it’s really like. Some may even believe that it’s just a fact of life. But that’s not true—we can end hunger with strong local efforts coupled with systemic change.
Our elected officials work on many important issues, and they don’t always have food insecurity at the forefront of their agendas—and yet few issues are more critical. Remind your representatives how important access to food is by using your voice and serving as an advocate for the food insecure. Feeding America offers a template to help you write a letter to your congressmen and congresswomen.
Join CCI in Creating a Food Secure Future
CCI Health & Wellness Services is more than just a Federally Qualified Health Center—we are an advocacy organization. We work towards more equitable health care, which includes nutrition and food accessibility. Our reputation and experience drive the conversation and influences stakeholders to create positive, long-lasting change in the community.
And through our WIC at CCI program, we’ve made great strides in the fight against hunger. Now, we’re taking our efforts to another level. Our Food is Medicine program provides our most vulnerable patients with access to healthy, sustaining foods. It can be a gamechanger in the community—but it depends on contributions from those who share our passion for community change.
You can play a role in our efforts by making a tax-deductible gift to CCI. Your support will help us continue our advocacy work, launch our needed Food is Medicine program, and change thousands of lives.
Ending hunger isn’t impossible. It’ll take commitment and strategy, but it can happen—and you’ll lead the way. Join us in creating a food secure future for every family.