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Editorial-Food Insecurity in Emporia

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food in·se·cu·ri·ty

noun

noun: food insecurity

  1. the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.

"more than 800 million people live every day with hunger or food insecurity as their constant companion"

In the article from the Capital News Service that appears below, there is an infographic with the percentage of “food insecure people” in each locality in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

I have added a caption to this graphic that notes the percentage of the residents of the City of Emporia who are “food insecure.”

24.4 percent (1,341 people) of our neighbors are considered to be “food insecure,” meaning that they have no reliable access to nutritious foods, including fresh produce. 16.8 percent (2,832 people) of the citizens of Greensville County are also considered “food insecure.”

What is being done to reduce that number?

It is unclear if Congress will be able to help, but the bill sponsored by our own Representative, Donald McEachin, failed to classify Emporia as a “food desert,” even with the enhancements to that definition. According to the bill in question, any locality with 20% or more of the citizens living in poverty, or where the median household income is 80% or less than the statewide median household income is a “food desert.”

Here in Emporia, 30.9% of the population lives in poverty. That percentage equates to 1,968 people. Nearly 2000 people live below the federal poverty level.  Our median household income of $27,426 is 39.89% of the statewide median household income of $68,756. In Greensville County 17% of the population lives below the poverty level and the median household income of $42,121 is less than 80% of the statewide median income. (Sources https://datausa.io/profile/geo/emporia-va/#economy, https://datausa.io/profile/geo/greensville-county-va)

Given both of those numbers the City of Emporia and Greensville County should be considered “food deserts” under the definition of the Healthy Food Access for all Americans Act (HFAAA).

There was a bill in the Virginia General Assembly that provided $5 million to help attract, build or renovate stores in localities that are underserved. That bill died in the Appropriations Committee of the House of Delegates.

On a local level, it is up to non-government-organizations to fill the gap. The most visible of those in the City is the Samaritan Helping Hands Home on North Main Street where lunch is provided on weekdays. During the summer, Greensville County Public Schools participates in the USDA sponsored summer lunch program. Feedmore, the foodbank for Central Virginia serves three agencies, only one of which is actually in the City.

As an offshoot of the summer feeding program, Main Street United Methodist Church offers a free Community Meal on the fourth Sunday of each month at 5:30 pm. This meal is, in addition an opportunity to help feed neighbors in need, for anyone who shows up. Food is prepared for 50 people, and all are welcome. For full disclosure, I have a leadership role in the Community Meal Ministry at MSUMC. If anyone is interested in starting a similar ministry at their own church on a different Sunday, I will gladly help.

In Greensville County, where 16.8% of the citizens are “food insecure,” there are two locations served by Feedmore: Elnora Jarrell Worship Center and Garden of Prayer, but only El Shaddai Ministry (the former St. James Episcopal Church) is in the City of Emporia.

At Elnora Jarrell Worship Center food is distributed from 3:30 to 4 pm every Tuesday and Thursday and from 9 to 11 am on the second Saturdays.

At Garden of Prayer food is distributed on the first Monday, but no time is given by the Feedmore website.

Here in the City El Shaddai Ministry distributes food from 9 to 11 am on the second and third Saturdays.

For the combined City and County, food is distributed for 10 and one half hours each month. Logistically, 10 ½ hours is not nearly enough time to distribute food for 4,173 people. I have personally approached Feedmore about adding another location. Had they been amenable, I would have presented that to the Church Council, with the hope of adding our parking lot to the list of locations for the Mobile Food Pantry. Feedmore shut me down in quick order, but I am armed with statistics, and will try again.

Here are the days and times for agencies served by Feedmore, copied and pasted directly from their website:

El Shaddai Ministry
609 Halifax Street , Emporia, VA 23847
Phone: 434-594-2680
Thursday, 09:00 AM to 11:00 AM, 2nd & 3rd

Elnora Jarrell Worship Center
490 Liberty Road, Emporia, VA 23847
Phone: 434-336-9990
Tuesday, 03:30 PM to 04:00 PM, WEEKLY
Thursday, 03:30 PM to 04:00 PM, WEEKLY
Saturday, 09:00 AM to 11:00 AM, 3RD

Garden of Prayer
386 Slagles Lake Road, Emporia, VA 23847
Phone: 434-632-1252
Monday, 1st

It is budget season for both the City and County, yet neither budget has any assistance for feeding the hungry.

The proposed city budget includes a 4% increase for water and a 4% increase for sewer, plus a $2 increase for sanitation. That is a $3.63 increase on the minimum-usage monthly water bill (the minimum billing for water/sewer/sanitation was about $30 15 years ago and will now be nearly $100). That $3.63 is got to come from somewhere in the family budget, and given that many people in poverty are already forced to decide between paying the bills and buying food (and medicine) for their families, I would wager that the money will come from the already meager grocery budget.

The lack of nutritional food increases health issues, so it is no wonder that our community is also one of the least healthy of all localities in the Commonwealth, ranking 128 out of 133 in Health Outcomes (http://www.emporianews.com/content/report-shows-geographic-disparities-health-virginia).

Long term, education is the key to getting our community out of this situation. With a well educated populace, we will be better able to attract business and industry. Even if we were to improve our schools, we would likely not see results for a generation, especially given the number of years that the system has been under-funded.

Greensville County has a major Industrial Park in the works, but still refuses to do more that level-fund the Greensville County Public Schools. In fact, the proposed budgets for both the City and the County only level-fund our schools, as opposed to full funding – leaving the schools with more than one-million dollars less than they asked for. What major industry wants to locate in a place where they cannot hire an educated work-force?

Our library has cut hours in the time I have lived here. If our local governments were forward-thinking, the library would also receive increased funding, especially given the lack of broadband internet access in the more rural areas of the county and the economic hardships faced by the poor economy in the area (those living in poverty cannot afford the steep price of high-speed internet from Comcast), and the computers at the library are the only source of high-speed internet access for many.

Greensville County is spending millions of dollars to move Social Services to the County (most of the shared services have been moved out of the city), that money could be better spent elsewhere. In the city, they are apparently still considering spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to tear down the auditorium, which is (once again) money that could be better spent elsewhere. The City’s share of the debt service on the new Social Services building in the County is already more than $100,000, and the building is only in the initial phases of construction. Citizens are also on the hook for the debt service for the addition to the Greensville County Sherriff’s Department of which the City’s share is nearly $40K.

An increase in water service - for water that is not even palatable and leaves black mold-like deposits in pipes and toilets - is only going to continue to hurt the poorest among us. It is high time that both the City and County find new streams of revenue.

In the City, our prepared meals tax is already at the maximum, and revenue from our transient tax is projected to fall now that all of the power plants are finished. City Council is no longer considering a Cigarette Tax. A cigarette tax was proposed in previous budgets and people were very upset. The outcry was enough that the idea was scrapped. It is unclear if it was considered again, but the idea is not in the proposed budget. Nor were any other new sources of revenue.

Unless our City Council and Board of Supervisors drastically change their priorities, large numbers of our friends and neighbors are destined to be poor, hungry, sick and under-educated.

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