Non-profit organizations and state government might not go together like peanut butter and jelly, but go together they must for Connecticut to feed its hungry.
September is Hunger Action Month, highlighting the more than 400,000 Connecticut citizens who don’t have enough to eat. That number makes Deb Heinrich, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s non-profit liaison, focus on the need for the two entities to cooperate all the more.
“The governor has been doing public service announcements to raise awareness that there is a lot of hunger,” Heinrich said.
As part of Heinrich’s effort to call attention to food security issues, she accepted the SNAP challenge. She is eating on $4 a day, or $28 a week.
“I’m finding it can be done. I’m not hungry, but my choices are very limited,” said Heinrich. “So I end up eating the same thing over and over. You really have to plan it out.”
Across the state 110,000 children, or one in five kids, are hungry, said Nancy Carrington, president and chief executive officer of the Connecticut Food Bank.
Yet many of these children live in homes that don’t qualify for federally funded programs such as SNAP, Carrington said. So the Food Bank started "Back Pack" which helps more than 2,000 Connecticut schoolchildren.
On Fridays during the school year, the backpacks of children qualifying for the program are quietly taken from their lockers and packed with 10 food items to tide them over for the weekend. The backpacks are replaced before the class returns from recess.
“Basically it is the non-profits stepping in across the state; especially in this time of prolonged unemployment,” Carrington said.
The Share Our Strength state-based No Kid Hungry Campaigns is another example of government and non-profit partnership. These campaigns connect families to federally funded food and nutrition programs like the school breakfast and summer feeding efforts.
Food drives are often tied to Thanksgiving and the holiday season, but hunger follows no calendar. Summertime often means scant offerings, Heinrich said.
The Connecticut No Kid Hungry Campaign is working with End Hunger Connecticut! and the governor to help end childhood hunger in Connecticut by 2015. According to End Hunger Connecticut, only 58.4 percent of schools statewide take part in breakfast programs. If that number reaches 60 percent, the state will get an additional $7.6 million in federal dollars.
“For us $1 can go further; we can get $5 worth of food at the wholesale level,” Carrington said.
Nonprofits play an important role in every district. State Rep. Diana Urban, a Democrat representing North Stonington in the 43rd House District helped co-chair the 2010 Task Force on Children and the Recession, which worked closely with End Hunger Connecticut!
State lawmakers do appear to recognize the role non-profits play. State Rep. Tom Reynolds, a Democrat representing Ledyard and Montville in the 42nd House District, owns his own consulting firm. The business helps the fundraising and strategic planning for non-profit organizations.
State Rep. Jason Perillo, a Republican representing Shelton in the 113th House District, said the business community and community action agencies are heavily involved in his district.
“As to the governor's role, I really couldn't say. I am really not aware of anything he has done to enhance their ability to help the community,” said Perillo who recently attended the Valley United Way’s food drive kickoff, the "Harvest House" program. “The non-profit success stories that I know of are the result of hard-working and dedicated employees - not government intervention.”
Recent events like Hurricane Irene hit cash strapped residents hard. Many, who normally find it difficult to afford food, must now replace refrigerated and frozen food items.
“With the economy as it is it reaches a lot of people, and it’s not who you think it is,” Heinrich said. “It could be your next door neighbor, and sometimes it is.”