Hunger Task Force generates ideas to combat hunger


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Johnson County and city officials are coming together with community members to combat hunger issues through a newly formed task force.

Following a Hunger Forum hosted by the Johnson County Crisis Center in July, city councilors from both Iowa City and Coralville, food pantries in the area, and the Board of Supervisors created the Hunger Task Force, designed to brainstorm innovative ways to tackle food-insecurity in the area.

“It was basically just participating in that hunger forum and hearing people talk about the need for collaboration,” said Iowa City City Councilor Kingsley Botchway II, who originally suggested the task force. “I wanted that to happen in Johnson County.”

The group met for the first time Thursday, focusing on a group of people who are food insecure, which, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture website, is “when the consistent access of adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.”

The task force addressed the idea that food insecurity is not an individual problem but is a household problem that affects every member of a family, including children.

“It’s important because we have a growing population that is food insecure, and it’s necessary that we come up with a community-wide plan to address the issue,” said Lynette Jacoby, the Social Services coordinator for Johnson County. “We’re trying to work collectively on creative solutions.”

The Hunger Task Force pointed to a study conducted in 2012 by Feeding America that reported that Iowa’s child-food-insecurity rate is 19.3 percent.

According to the study, Johnson County also has one of the highest food insecurity rates for the total population in the state. As of the 2012 study, there were 18,640 food-insecure individuals in Johnson County, with 40 percent of those individuals unable to qualify for governmental food-assistance programs.

“Ultimately, I hope this task force can lead to ending hunger in Johnson County,” Botchway said. “However, some small goals include building a network where we get resources out to people who need them, so nobody feels like they don’t have the information that they need.”

At the meeting, Jacoby described the specifics of food insecurity, and allowed the members of the group to break off into smaller groups to solve problems and create potential ideas for the task force to work on in the future.

“I think it was important … that we developed a common theme,” she said. “That will be the springboard for moving forward for the rest of our meetings.”

Attention in the future will most generally be focused on funding, collaboration, healthy foods, access to food, and advocacy for the program.

Jacoby said future meetings will include more in-depth debates about these themes, as well as creating smaller groups to focus on the points individually.

“Once they identify these priorities, we’ll start working backward and start identifying the rest of the path we will take to achieve our goals,” she said.

County Supervisor Janelle Rettig said she believes the group has a lot of potential to make a difference.

“I think we will get a much better handle on what hunger is and what the barriers are that are barring the way for these people to get services,” she said. “There are a lot of people in this room who can make a difference, and I think we can make a lot of progress.”

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