Making Room At The Table, Part I

Making Room At The Table, Part I:

Come To The Table: Seeing Hunger As A Health Issue

“We are driven to sustain a process of building healthier communities one life at a time, through safe, high-quality services, exceptional experiences, and seeing hunger as a community health issue.”

Dr. Randy Oostra,

President & CEO, ProMedica

These words from Dr. Randy Oostra largely sum up the aspirations and motivations of the Come To The Table Hunger & Health Summit on June 2nd at Los Poblanos Farm & Inn here in Albuquerque. This ProMedica-sponsored summit convened staff from Roadrunner, the New Mexico Department of Health, La Cosecha CSA, WHYHunger, Senator Tom Udall’s, Representative Ben Ray Lujan’s & Steve Pearce’s offices, and other New Mexico and national organizations. Such a diversity of anti-hunger advocates, health professionals, legislative staff, and others brought home this driving point: Hunger is a health issue and furthermore a community health issue requiring cross-sector collaboration to solve at its root levels.

Thanks to ProMedica, local summit anchor Presbyterian Healthcare Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture-Food & Nutrition Services Administrator Audrey Rowe, and the Public Health Institute, some startling realities came to light. In particular, these two facts:

  • Hunger costs the United States of America over $167 billion each year in healthcare costs, lost wages, etc., and;
  • Teenagers suffering from food insecurity (i.e. lacking daily access to nutritious food) are five times more likely to commit suicide than food secure teenagers.

At the same time, other organizational examples gave us additional hope, that we don’t need to be trapped by the social determinants (e.g. poverty, immobility to access healthy food options) of hunger. In particular, there were these two examples of hope:

  • The donor-supported and ProMedica-facilitated, Toledo, OH-based Ebeid Institute for Population Health, which features a food pharmacy, health screening facilities, and professional skills classrooms, open to all in need in the Toledo area, and;
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico-based MoGro Initiative, which connects lower-income communities via mobile vans to regular access points to fresh, healthy produce.

Through these examples and many others, we learned how we can move along together in treating hunger through not only food banking, not only through clinical health means. We can start to treat hunger through community health integration. We all learned how Roadrunner and food banks across New Mexico and the country have a role to build awareness of hunger and food security; discuss opportunities on community integrated hunger relief with health groups; share exciting partnership news; and advance ways on continuing the conversation to make food security a lasting reality in New Mexico and nationwide!

As one of the presenters, Ambassador Tony Hall of the Alliance to End Hunger, told us in a story of when he met Mother Teresa of Calcutta, we can all sum up the mission of Roadrunner and hunger relief on five fingers: We serve “For the least of these.”

Stay tuned to more in the series “Making Room At the Table” as we address in New Mexico and elsewhere how Roadrunner, partner agencies, and national agencies and organizations are working at the front lines of food security and population health.


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