Richmond’s community is riddled with food insecurity

Illustration by Marisa Stratton

Tagwa Shammet, Opinions Editor

Do you know where your next meal is coming from?

That is a question many of us are fortunate enough to not think about — a question that we must not fear responding to because we are confident and secure about our access to food. But for those of us who aren’t sure where or when they will have their next meal, the question is terrifying.

Growing up, I spent a large sum of my childhood in Sudan. I saw the atrocities of poverty and hunger. However, it wasn’t always those in poverty who spent the night hungry. Even those above the poverty line still struggled to keep food on the table. 

There is a large misconception that hunger in American communities simply does not exist, or is a scarce occurrence — a false notion that the scenes I have witnessed in Sudan are exclusive to developing world countries and not a superpower nation like the United States.

Well, let me burst your bubble. Food insecurity is happening all over the world, all across this nation and right in front of you. 

Food insecurity is the limited or uncertain availability of nutritious foods needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle, according to the Virginia Department of Social Services. It is utilized in an effort to track hunger and risk of starvation. And it is a reality for many Americans today.

According to Feeding America — one of the largest nationwide food banks — 1 in 9 Americans are struggling with food insecurity. 

That means 1 in every 9 would answer to my question above: “No, I do not know where my next meal is coming from.”

Richmond is a city that holds an abundance of culture and vision; it is laced with diversity and creativity. However, in moments like these, where we recognize how neglected community members are, we must also address the realities of our demographics. 

There are people in our own city who are struggling to put the next meal on their table.

Food insecurity disproportionately affects low-income minorities, according to the National Institute of Health. The Black community makes up 46.9% of Richmond’s population, according to the U.S. Census. Food insecurity is yet another consequence of racial inequality.

Joseph Cates, an associate professor at VCU, told The Commonwealth Times that 24% of Richmond’s population is living below the poverty line. We have an undeniable issue here in the capital city. A major chunk of the population goes hungry and lives with the uncertainty of their food source.

Feeding America reported that in 2018, Richmond had a 15.8% rate of food insecurity. I can only imagine how that rate has grown due to the pandemic. This is not something we can ignore. 

While food insecurity affects everyone — regardless of race — it is naive of us to ignore the link between racial inequality and the victims of hunger. One step to begin eliminating hunger in our community is by acknowledging the systematic reins that constrain minority communities.

VCU students in Ram Pantry and the Activities Programming Board organized Pack the Pantry, a canned food drive to provide to the student community.

Joseph Mitchell, APB’s communications coordinator, led the effort by bringing the organizations together. The drive ran from Feb. 15 to this past Monday; students registered through RamsConnect to drop off canned foods at the University Student Commons.

“It was an effort to inspire students, to have them realize their own agency and ability; how much they can do in their community,” Mitchell said. 

Mitchell said organizing Pack the Pantry allowed him to give back to his community. The program garnered student engagement and drew a large turnout, raising many donations for the community, Mitchell said.

“That’s what I love about Richmond. Everyone is making an effort to be more aware and involved,” Mitchell said. “It definitely was a strong campaign with many students reaching out to support.”

It’s wonderful to see student-led events and programs that service the community. Many students are completely unaware of food insecurity and the magnitude in which it exists in our city today. However, through events like Pack the Pantry, students are slowly educating themselves on the unfortunate reality we live in.

Pack the Pantry is not alone in its mission. The RVA Community Fridge project started in October to address the lack of food access and now has two locations at 2025 Venable St. and on 2414 Hull St. 

The fridge serves as a free grocery store for the less fortunate, while also accepting donations from community members. 

This is yet another effort by diligent community members to serve people who continue to struggle with food insecurity.

Do you know where your next meal is coming from?

If you can answer “yes,” make sure everyone around you can too.

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