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Joseph Petro

Hunger research attempts to identify contributing factors in Northeastern Pennsylvania

By Joseph Petro, sophomore communication arts major

To fight hunger, you have to be able to identify it. In northeastern Pennsylvania and beyond, data on hunger is scarce, outdated, and in some cases, inaccurate.

To help paint a clearer picture of hunger in the NEPA community, Dr. Joanne Christaldi, assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at Marywood University has created a research study to generate data based on how many Pennsylvania residents suffer from food insecurity.  Christaldi stated that the awareness of food insecurity is not suitably documented and she hopes that her efforts will bring awareness to the issue.

Christaldi received a needs assessment grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the spring of 2011 in the amount of $100,000 to establish the extent of the problem. The current objective of the research project is to generate data about food insecurity in NEPA. However, in the future Christaldi hopes to adapt the data in order to construct a plan of attack to address the issue by applying for an additional grant from the USDA.

Her research study consists of three major ways of generating data.  The first is a survey that went out to 10,000 randomized residents in the local area in the fall of 2011.  Despite her best efforts, this step is still in progress because many of the selected participants have failed to return the surveys.

Dr. Maria Montoro Edwards, assistant vice president for research and sponsored programs. Marywood University, looking up new data generated for Lackawanna County and surrounding counties. Photo Credit: Joseph Petro

Standard questions provided by the USDA are used for the surveys for the first step in order to compare with other parts of the country, said, Dr. Maria Montoro Edwards, assistant vice president for research and sponsored programs.

The second phase of Christaldi’s research study is to establish two focus groups.  One focus group will consist of food assistance providers and key informants in the community.  The second focus group will consist of  residents directly affected by food insecurity.

The third step to this process is a grocery store analysis to see if food is affordable and accessible to residents.  The stores will be selected based on areas where food insecurity is present and will establish if accessibility or affordability is contributing factors.

Christaldi is one year into her research project and intends to be complete within the next three months.  She had plans to have completed the research by now but, the survey process took longer than expected.

First Row (left to right): Linda Steier, Meals on Wheels; Dr. Joanne Christaldi, Assistant Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics, Marywood University; Sr. John Michele Southwick, IHM, Assistant Director of Campus Ministry, Marywood University; Sr. Ann Walsh, Friends of the Poor.
Second Row (left to right): Deb Peterson, Voluntary Action Center, Christopher Doherty, Lackawanna CAO; Rich Kurtz, Weinberg Regional Food Bank; Peg Kopko, United Way of Lackawanna and Wayne Counties. Photo courtesy Marywood University. (http://www.marywood.edu/news/detail.html?id=307417)

Edwards said Christaldi’s findings will be presented in front of the Food Policy Council, which consists of various organizations that provide food assistance and pantries.  The Food Policy Council will then develop a plan to try to solve some of the issues of the food insecurity in NEPA to present to the USDA to hopefully obtain an additional grant of $1.5 million.

According to Christaldi, One of the major contributing factors to food insecurity in the US is due to the econmic decline. “The economy is much lower than it used to be and that is one of the main reasons why we are finding food insecurity here.  You can say that a lot of places in the US have seen a similar trend as well.”

Christaldi indicated that data on food insecurity becomes “stale” quickly. She is uncertain on how her data will be published at this juncture.  However, she has indicated that a social marketing component may be added if additional funding is acquired to distribute the information in hard copy, online, and through lectures off campus.

This social marketing component may call attention to the issue of food insecurity in the local area by notifying citizens of the issue at hand. The social marketing component will address Food insecurity an issue that has not been addressed by the local or national media in a clear manner.

Edwards said that so much information exists; people often don’t know where to begin searching for it. “Most commonly disinformation and sometimes not being able to navigate the system are issues that arise … There a lot of different organizations and agencies providing services and some of it are duplicate services,” said Edwards.

Despite the limitless data available on the internet, there are many inconsistencies and variations of data.  This may be a result of information becoming outdated, organizations not updating their websites, or as a result of the long proccess of generating data through research. Lack of access to computers also makes it difficult for those who are not computer savvy or the elderly to to gain access to information.

For instance, pahunger.org depicts information that dates as far back as 2005, while having a target deadline of lowering statistics by 2010. The organization is trying to lower the satistics by joint efforts by assistance programs, food banks, and other organizations to provide food assistance. In addition, the organization is also attempting to improve nutrition programs for at-risk children.

According to the Huffington Post, $167 billion is spent yearly on programs to assist the food insecure.

The Times-Tribune has reported that the state of the economy is the major contributing factor for food insecurity.

The lack of media coverage of food insecurity is another contributing factor to why citizens are not informed on the issue of food insecurity.

According to bread.org, “14.6 percent of United States households have food insecurities.”  This astounding percentage will make you think twice before calling yourself unfortunate.  Although many Americans these days are tightening their belts due to the economy, there are many ways to provide assistance.  These include donating excess produce, clothing, and donating your time to charitable organizations and food pantries.

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