National organization leader visits Butler County to kick off Hunger Action Month

Fairfield organization joins in national initiative to ask public to donate or advocate through volunteering or raising awareness.

Feeding America has a singular mission to end hunger, which is a monumental task given that the several billions of meals it provides annually across the country by member organizations, like Shared Harvest in Fairfield, and community partners is not enough.

Feeding America CEO Claire Babineaux-Fontenot visited Shared Harvest on Wednesday to kick-off Hunger Action Month, which is a push to mobilize the public to help end hunger. Feeding America and its member organizations, like Shared Harvest, are asking the public to either donate or advocate through volunteering or raising awareness.

“For many, a daily meal is a simple choice of what to eat,” said Babineaux-Fontenot. “For people facing hunger, a daily meal poses a very different type of choice. It’s often an impossible decision between food or other crucial needs, such as electricity, childcare, or medicine. Nobody should be forced to make a choice to go hungry. With the public’s support, we can come together to help people achieve long-term food security, so they no longer have to make such tough decisions.”

This month marks the 14th year Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, has organized the annual call to action. The nationwide nonprofit organization has a network of 200 foodbanks and 60,000 partner food agencies and meal programs. This year’s campaign presents the impossible choices that millions of Americans must make between food and other basic needs.

Throughout September, Shared Harvest is asking people in the counties it serves — Butler, Darke, Miami, Preble and Warren counties ― to become involved by education, donation and speaking up about ways to help in ending hunger. The foodbank created a calendar (found at www.sharedharvest.org/hunger-action-month) that offers suggestions every day of September to help in the fight to end hunger.

For example, today, Shared Harvest suggests people skip the morning coffee shop run for the month and instead donate that money to Shared Harvest as $1 donated can feed at least 10 people.

“The support that we have received over this past year from Feeding America has been paramount, as we persevered in service to the community,” said Terry Perdue, Shared Harvest Foodbank executive director.

Shared Harvest received a boost when Kroger this year opened its first-of-its-kind high-tech customer fulfillment center in Monroe. Perdue said Shared Harvest was “a critical part” of Kroger figuring out its process.

“As they were testing their processes, they have food that’s perishable. And rather than wasting that with their Zero Hunger, Zero Waste initiative, we were able to accept that food and prevent that from being wasted and get that to the community,” he said.

Babineaux-Fontenot said the work of the country’s largest food-waste recovery organization’s members saves nearly 5 billion pounds of food, which is accomplished through business partnerships.

“When that (food) gets saved, it’s a perfect thing,” Babineaux-Fontenot said. “Not only does the food not go to the landfill, it goes to fill bellies. That’s the way it happens with these creative partnerships.”

Perdue said the foodbank has been able to “transform” its operations with the help of recent large donations, most notably a $100 million donation by billionaire Jeff Bezos to Feeding America, which in turn sent those funds to its 200 member agencies.

Within 30 days of receiving its portion, Shared Harvest was able to leverage those funds with other donations, such as from Conagra and Kraft Heinz, to buy new equipment, like forklifts, racks to store more food, and a new cooler. Babineaux-Fontenot said refrigeration, as well as freezers, are crucial to not just providing meals, but nutritious meals.

“The most nutritious foods are really the most expensive foods. It’s impossible for a foodbank to provide that really densely nutritious food without coolers and freezers. That’s the way they make it happen,” she said. “This is a really big deal and it translates into healthier diets.”