Omaha-metro welcomes White House Hunger plan

More than 100,000 people in the area don’t know where their next affordable meal will come from.
10% of U.S. households suffered food insecurity last year, in Douglas County, it's higher, close to 12%.
Published: Sep. 28, 2022 at 11:01 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Ending hunger is such an enormous idea, it might be considered fantasy. And yet the White House has a plan, starting with $8 billion in commitments from private companies, charitable foundations, and industry groups.

“I know, we can do it if we work together. I really do know we can do this, end hunger in this country by the year 2030 and lower the toll, lower the toll that diet-related diseases takes on for too many Americans,” President Biden said Wednesday while kicking off the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health.

The numbers are sobering, nationally and locally: In 2021, 10% of American households suffered food insecurity, and in the metro, that number is even higher, over 12% in Douglas County. More than 100,000 people in the Omaha metro don’t know where their next affordable meal will come from.

“It’s the food, it’s the gas cards, you know it’s trying to get those resources that they need, the basic needs so that they can study and pay attention to what they need to, but it’s tough,” Nebraska Methodist College president Dr. Deb Carlson said. She was looking forward to reading the details of the White House plan.

“I started to talk to other presidents and realized that [they] were having the same kind of conversations and realizing the same needs of their students,” Carlson said. “It became really obvious that it’s not just Omaha problem, it’s not just a Nebraska Methodist problem, it’s a societal problem, you know we’re having more food insecurity across the country and across the world and if we don’t address it who will?”

The Nebraska Methodist Health System was among those across the nation providing public input to inform this national strategy through brainstorming sessions. Students in need of food were just part of what their research showed.

Food insecurity in younger people and working families, food waste, and the need for nutrition literacy and consumer choices were a few suggestions participants offered.

“Just having the conversations is step one and I think just highlighting the need to hold this conference that hasn’t been held in over 50 years is one step forward in the right direction,” Methodist Health System clinical nutritionist Julie Juddi said. “The last one was held in 1969 and according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics it led to the creation and expansion of programs like SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and then the national school breakfast and lunch programs.”

Douglas County Health Director Dr. Lindsay Huse said existing programs, like SNAP and WIC, are life-changers. The new strategy promises to build on them. Huse insists any successful long-term plan must also attack the root causes.

“Your social economic status, your education status, are you able to have secure and affordable housing, do you have transportation, these are all kind of social infrastructure issues,” Huse said. “There just needs to be first of all the understanding that all of those things that totally don’t sound like health, all impact health significantly, and that surely support efforts to ensure that people in our community have access to those things that they are able to earn a livable wage that they’re able to do what needs to be done so that they’re able to afford healthy and nutritious food.”

Innovations even in the way food pantries are run and fresh food are made available are also part of the initiatives outlined in the White House plan.

Dr. Jeffrey Fischer helped build Kountze Commons in Omaha and is all for every effort to fight hunger, big or small. While the long-term plan hopefully reaches the lofty goals, he sees one thing day-to-day that can still make a difference.

“If you ask me is there a simple solution for this, and the answer is, yes, give, just give,” Fischer said. “If you buy one bottle of ketchup, buy two, it doesn’t cost that much more, we need everybody to pitch in and say, this is my responsibility, the lord gave us this job, and this is what we have to do.”

Sessions from the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health are available on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website.