CINCINNATI -- One in six Ohioans struggles with food insecurity. And among Ohio’s children, one in four doesn’t always have access to adequate, healthy food.
Most local residents have heard these statistics before, but do we really understand hunger in Ohio?
Xavier University will explore the complex topic this weekend at the second installment of the Ohio Hunger Dialogues. The university was invited this year to host the statewide academic forum, which began in 2014 to engage Ohio students and academics, and community organizations and civic leaders in a conversation about hunger, poverty, food and sustainable agriculture.
The two-day event, held both Friday and Saturday on Xavier’s campus, will feature site visits at local agencies working to fight hunger, as well as interactive presentations led by faculty and students from nine Ohio colleges and universities, and community leaders from several collaborative partners.
“It’s an important conversation,” said Sean Rhiney, director of the Eigel Center for Community-Engaged Learning at Xavier. “Universities across Ohio are working alongside community partners to address hunger in our own communities, but we each face different issues. This is an opportunity to come together and learn from each other.”
Sessions at this year’s forum will address hunger from all sides, including advocacy and legislation, sustainable food solutions, rural and urban hunger, campus food insecurity and health, Rhiney noted.
By design, the Ohio Hunger Dialogues address the issues surrounding hunger in both local and global communities, but also seek to find solutions through teaching, research and service.
This year’s presenters will highlight a number of ongoing projects that are helping to fight hunger throughout the state, he said.
The event’s plenary panel on hunger will include Kurt Reiber, president and CEO of the Freestore Foodbank.
The Cincinnati-based nonprofit serves families from 20 counties in the Tri-state and offers both food and services aimed at fighting local hunger and its root causes.
Reiber said he hopes to help put a face on hunger in Ohio.
“We serve local families and children,” he said. “They’re our neighbors… Not faceless, nameless people.”
The local families dealing with food insecurity might surprise some people, according to Reiber. The vast majority of those who receive assistance through the Freestore Foodbank are working families. In fact, about 75 percent have jobs, he said. But they’re not making enough money to always make ends meet.
“They are faced with hard decisions at times,” he said. “Do they pay their rent or buy food? Do they buy medicine for their child or food?”
Families across the state are facing similar struggles.
“It’s an urgent need,” he said of hunger in Ohio. “Many families don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”
Also on the panel is Kristin Gangwer, CEO of Our Harvest Cooperative, a worker-owned co-op that has a commitment to sustainable agriculture and aims to improve access to affordable, fresh local food. Our Harvest partners with a variety of local organizations, including the Freestore Foodbank, to help fight hunger in Cincinnati.
Gangwer will speak at the event about the role local farmers and sustainable farming practices play in the war on hunger.
“Having access to healthy and fresh local food is a right everyone should have,” she said. “In every community.”
The upcoming Ohio Hunger Dialogue at Xavier coincides with similar formal conversations that will take place in other states during National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, which kicks off Saturday.
By bringing together the people, universities and various organizations fighting hunger in communities across Ohio, it brings more awareness to the problem, according to Gangwer. And helps create more possible solutions.
“It’s important to increase awareness, because there are people all around us silently struggling with hunger,” she said. “People need to know how close to home hunger really is for all of us.”
For details about this year’s Ohio Hunger Dialogue, including a full schedule, and list of panelists and presenters, click here.