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U of I faculty assist in evaluating US food security programs

On Tuesday, representatives of the Eastern Illinois Foodbank shared results of a national study sponsored by Feeding America, the nation's largest domestic hunger-relief organization.

The study is completed every four years by nearly 200 food banks and analyzes the effectiveness of emergency food distribution throughout the United States. Craig Gundersen, an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois, is a member of the Technical Advisory Group for this report.

The "Hunger in America" study reports that more than 100,600 people, including 33,198 children, receive emergency food each year through the Eastern Illinois Foodbank and the food pantries, soup kitchens, and other emergency food programs it serves. The food bank serves 14 counties in eastern Illinois.

"These findings represent a 133% increase in the number of individuals served since the last study was released in 2006," said Cheryl Middaugh, a food bank spokesperson. "The report reflects the skyrocketing unemployment figures and deflating investment payouts for retirees, among other factors, that have significantly increased demand at emergency food providers."

"This increase was substantially higher than for the country as a whole," said Gundersen. "This reflects both the continuing demand for services in the area and the concerted efforts of the Eastern Illinois Foodbank to expand services to meet this demand." Gundersen also noted that while the number of people in need of services may decline as the economy improves, there will continue to a substantial number of people who are in need of services.

In addition to assisting with the review of this report, Gundersen is examining a recently established program designed to help low-income school children. In collaboration with colleagues Barbara Fiese and Brenda Davis Koester of the U of I Family Resiliency Center, Gundersen is studying the BackPack Program.

The program has been established in several locations across the country, including in Champaign-Urbana. Through this program, food banks partner with local schools to identify children at-risk for hunger. Volunteers fill donated backpacks with child-friendly, easy-to-prepare foods that are discretely distributed to children on Friday afternoon.

"The BackPack Program in Champaign-Urbana was piloted by the Eastern Illinois Foodbank during the 2006 school year and currently serves about 200 students," Gundersen said. "Barbara, Brenda, and I are excited about providing insights to Feeding America and the Eastern Illinois Food Bank about this program."

LeAnn Ormsby | EurekAlert!
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