Hundreds of thousands of local people struggle daily with food insecurity and hunger, according to estimates from the area food bank organization, Foodlink. But officials say that problem often floats under the radar.
Foodlink officials are hoping a “visual reminder” unveiled Friday will help raise awareness.
In front of their Mt. Read facility, there are 156 bright orange paper plates staked into the ground and arranged in three neat rows. Each plate represents 1,000 people struggling with food insecurity in the 10-county region Foodlink serves. This area stretches from the Pennsylvania border up to Lake Ontario.
“We put the plates in the ground really as a visual for people to understand that there are 156,000 empty plates in our 10-county region so people can really get a visual of how many people out there are wondering where their next meal will come from,” said Heather Newton, Director of Community Engagement. She explained food insecurity is not knowing where your next meal will come from.
She added that you can’t look at someone and tell if they struggle with this issue so a lot of people aren’t aware how prevalent food insecurity really is. It’s also more of a private issue. Unless you're seeking out food from pantries or organizations, it can be easy to hide that you're struggling securing food. Maybe you just don’t pay one of your bills, said Newton.
“Often what we understand from people is that they’re making a choice between, for example, paying their rent or paying their electricity bill and going out and purchasing food at the grocery store," she said.
And despite many campaigns trying to put a face to hunger, for the most part, the food insecure are a diverse crowd with diverse needs, Newton said.
“There really isn’t a true way to know until you sit down and talk to people and really get to know what their choices are on a daily basis,” said Newton. “There is certainly people out there that are feeding their kids well before they’re feeding themselves.”
The visual art campaign kicks off the tenth annual Hunger Action Month, a nationwide, month-long campaign to spread awareness about the millions of Americans who struggle with food insecurity every day.
“Food insecurity can be found in every corner of our community,” said Foodlink Executive Director Julia Tedesco in a statement. “While we understand that ending hunger is a year-round commitment, September provides us with a greater platform to raise our voice and draw attention to a critical issue that touches thousands of our neighbors.”
In addition to the orange plates, Foodlink will be hosting events and drives all month to raise awareness and combat hunger. On Sept 18 there is the annual Festival of Food and the Fill the Bus annual food drive will take place Sept 8-23. For more information, visit foodlinkny.org