Staff and Program Spotlight: Alexa Turner and the United South Side Food Pantry
8/2/2013 12:46 AM
Food Pantry Assistant, Alexa Turner
Hope House’s Food Pantry Assistant, Alexa Turner, recently finished her sixth month at Hope House and oversees operations at the United South Side Food Pantry. Her work at USSFP includes managing incoming donations, packing well-balanced food bags, overseeing and organizing volunteers, checking in guests, as well as providing nutritional and application assistance for programs such as SNAP and WIC. Alexa graduated from UW-Milwaukee in 2012 with a degree in Criminal Justice, but knew for some time she wanted to be involved in social work; at USSFP she found her niche and loves working with the different groups of people, from guests to volunteers. One of the challenges of the job is in meeting guests who are in need, but arrive before or after hours; Alexa observes, “it is hard” to have to ask guests to come back when the pantry is open “when I am aware of their need for food.” That said, she also notes that it makes her “happy knowing that, even if only a little, I am contributing to helping families in Milwaukee.”
United South Side Food Pantry
Often when discussing food pantries, or state and federal programs, such as WIC or SNAP, the term ‘food insecurity’ is included somewhere in the discussion. Food insecurity may seem like just another hot new buzzword that you find hashtagged on Twitter, but for those whom it affects, #foodinsecurity is only the beginning of the conversation. Food insecurity means in basic terms, not knowing where your next meal is coming from. While often linked to poverty, it is more often the case that the contributing factor creating food insecurity in the United States is unemployment. Personal economic fallout from the recent recession, which included rising unemployment, foreclosure and health insurance rates, disappearing pensions and shrinking home values, both individually and collectively contributed to rising levels of food insecurity in the United States.
In 2011 - two years after the end of the recession – this issue still represented a very real circumstance for nearly 15% of the US population, or roughly 33.5 million adults and 16.7 million children. Breaking down the figures from 2011 gives an even clearer picture: among all U.S. households with children, 20.6% had experienced food insecurity in the prior year; in households headed by a single parent, that figure jumped to 38.8%; for seniors, 8.4% had experienced food insecurity; for single men the figure was as high as 24.9%.1
The impact of food insecurity in children is particularly problematic as this affects physiological and intellectual development. Nutritional deprivation at the earliest stages of life (birth to 5 years) can have long-term impacts on the individual’s immune system, as well cognitive development. That said, poor nutrition and hunger affect emotional health, disease immunity and overall physical health at any age.2
While hunger can be viewed as an issue that affects only individuals’ physical health, or interpersonal relationships, it also can have broader social impacts. If the issue is long-standing, the physical and emotional affects of hunger can potentially impact the health of interpersonal relationships and family stability; if food insecurity is widespread geographically, the affects can impact whole communities and in extreme cases, become cause for potentially destabilizing unrest, as was the case with food riots which took place internationally in 2007 and 2008 after drought-induced crop failures affected harvests.
As the economic downturn took hold, many who lost jobs, homes, or retirement savings turned to federal, state and local programs to supplement their food resources. State and Federally administered programs, such as WIC (Women Infants and Children) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) provide financial and educational assistance to families for supplemental foods, nutrition education and health care referrals. The funding provided by these programs however, often cannot cover the extent of the need. The SNAP Challenge, an exercise that proved eye opening to many, required participants to restrict their food consumption to items covered by SNAP and limit food purchases to the average SNAP benefit of $4.80/day for a minimum of one week. To put the challenge in context another way, for a family of four, this would mean each individual would be allotted 40¢ per meal. For those utilizing governmental programs, assistance is often be augmented with resources from local food pantries, which regularly help to close the financial gap for food purchases.
The United South Side Food Pantry, a program of Hope House, is the fourth largest emergency food distribution site on Milwaukee’s south side. USSFP serves households residing in the 53204 zip code and includes a mix of long-time homeowners and new immigrants. The USSFP, open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12:30 - 2:30 pm and Saturdays from 10:00 am - 12:00 pm provides a continuum of services designed to reduce hunger, improve nutrition and enhance the quality of life for those facing food insecurity by providing healthful food, relevant service referrals and education on nutrition and general wellness. In 2012, the USSFP served a total of 3,642 households, or over 9,800 individuals, over 4,300 of whom were children. The United South Side Food Pantry receives food from a variety of sources, such government surplus commodities from the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), corporate funders, faith-based organizations, businesses, community and special-interest organizations, as well as individual donors. Occasionally, food drives will be focused (such as Walker’s Pint’s Tuna Drive), but often the donations can be somewhat random, or in quantities sized commercial food production, rather than sized for a household. While donations occur regularly, there are always needs for items that are culturally specific (dried beans and rice) as well as proteins such as meats and cheeses.
Hope House and the United South Side Food Pantry happily accept cash and in-kind food donations. If you have questions about making donations, please contact us at 414-645-2122.