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Shannon Casas: What hunger can look like in our community
Shannon Casas
Shannon Casas

As part of a youth group event years ago, I fasted with the goal of raising funds to fight hunger.

I remember photos of children starving in Africa. And I believe I asked people to donate money based on how many hours I’d go without food — the goal was 30 hours. 

Before I hit 30 hours, I vomited orange juice — the only sustenance we had —  on the sidewalk outside the church building. Apparently missed meals can have that effect.

After that, I stopped complaining to my parents that I was “starving” when I just wanted dinner.

I’ve never worried about whether I would have food to eat.

In Hall County, about 8% of people do have that worry, according to statistics recorded by Feeding America.

Hunger here doesn’t look like those World Vision photos of bodies wasting away. But it is reality for some.

In training to become foster parents five years ago, we were taught that kids might hoard food, tucking snacks away in their bedroom. 

Since then, that hunger has shown itself in numerous ways in my home.

Toddlers have cleared plates full of food, and then some, day after day. I wondered if it was because they weren’t sure when they might be fed again. 

A child has complained every night that he’s hungry even after eating all of his dinner. A small snack seemed to assuage his fears.

A child has brought home a backpack full of food, clearly proud to provide something important to the family — though the charity was no longer needed.

A doctor has discussed healthy ways to add pounds to a child who is underweight.

A child has asked strangers for money so she could buy snacks rather than rely on her caregivers to provide.

Hunger in our community may not be as obvious unless you know the signs.

The Division of Family and Children Services provides a per diem to cover the cost of feeding children in foster care. It’s not something they should have to worry about anymore. But it’s hard for these children to trust these ideals over their experiences.

The issue also shows up in poor nutrition. Sometimes the cheapest options to feed a family have little nutritional value. Preparing healthy meals takes time and knowledge.

And knowing what’s healthy is complicated in America’s landscape of options.

I recently heard an ad on the radio touting a bakery product that has “real ingredients.” The first two “real ingredients” listed on the package are sugar and bleached wheat flour. Though they’re not imaginary ingredients, they’re also not nutritious ingredients. Hint: If you want something healthier, look for the word “whole” before “wheat flour.” And I think we all know sugar shouldn’t be the first ingredient, as delicious as it may be.

But not everyone has the luxury of scanning ingredient lists on packages in the grocery store, especially when the healthier option is the more expensive option.

The problem is greater in other parts of our state, where the economy isn’t as strong and resources fewer. But for those who experience hunger, it is a very real problem.

Today’s edition highlights hunger in our community ahead of the Georgia Mountain Food Bank’s annual Empty Bowl Luncheon later this month.

These stories examine what the issue looks like and include the many resources available to those in need, ranging from government programs to charitable food pantries and those backpacks of food sent home with some students.

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a foster parent. You can hear her most weeks on the Inside The Times podcast on iTunes or Google Play.

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