Food disparity discussed at CAO 2023 Hunger Summit


PORTSMOUTH- After a Covid hiatus, Community Action Organization (CAO) of Scioto County hosted its 2023 Hunger Summit at the CAO Welcome Center last week, welcoming state and local leaders tackling the food disparity issues that many locals face today. This was the third annual recurrence of the event.

The morning was kicked off by an introduction from CAO Executive Director Steve Sturgill, who commented on the strong efforts his agency makes to improve food gaps in the county, as well as highlighting the many present partners that work alongside them to serve vulnerable populations.

“Hunger is too real for residents in the local and regional area,” Sturgill said. “CAO representatives have been working diligently in several communities and have witnessed firsthand the hardships created from living in food deserts. We will continue to identify the tools and partnerships necessary to address this issue and work towards eradicating food disparities for the people we serve in every way we can. Our mission continues to be ‘Helping people. Changing lives’ and we will keep doing just that as we address the needs of those facing hunger in our community.”

The event continued with CAO partner and community leader Malissa Sarver, who gave an overview on type 1 diabetes. She spoke on what it is, prevention, treatment, and how to sustain a healthy lifestyle.

Sarver brought students from her Shawnee State University nutrition class, as well as her son, and gave in-depth personal discussions on how type I diabetes has impacted her life and family.

The speaker is well-educated, with bachelor and masters degrees in clinical dietetics and serves the community through non-profit leadership, education, and working with community partners, such as CAO.

She gave details that highlighted the struggles those face with diabetes and also passed around dozens of pumps, tests, and more to show people what goes into maintenance of type 1 diabetes.

Also in attendance was Miss Portsmouth, Piper Cunningham, who briefly spoke on her River Days platform of type 1 diabetes and gave an emotional speech on her struggles and how she has overcome them. Cunningham hopes to shine more light on the topic in coming months, as she vies for the River Days crown.

Following the lesson on type 1 diabetes, hunger in Ohio took the forefront, as Kurt Reiber, of Freestore Foodbank, addressed the audience on a lecture alongside Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, of Ohio Association of Foodbanks.

The two discussed many topics, including the successes of Freestore Foodbank to serve Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. The organization has over 100 employees and provides 37.7 million meals across 20 counties. The organization is known for working with CAO and the Steven A Hunter Hopefund on the local level, as well as others.

“Every day, we are working to reduce hunger in the tristate area. We couldn’t do it without the tremendous support of more than 10,000 volunteers and our network of 540 community partner

agencies,” Freestore explained. “This includes food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, community centers, program sites, senior centers and daycare facilities.”

The group works with vendors and the government to create nutritious options for families, using bulk purchasing, and can provide three meals for one dollar, according to Reiber. Also, impressively, the organization spends 94 cents of every dollar they receive on operational costs related to food.

Hamler-Fuggit was a major asset to the discussion who participated and asked questions in every discussion by various presenters. She also spoke heavily on the Ohio Association of Foodbank and its efforts to increase funding to food disparities across the state and future funding opportunities.

Following Reiber and Hamler-Fuggitt was Portsmouth City Schools’ Wes Harmon, who gave an in-depth presentation on the school system’s new agriculture program using hydroponics to grow food for students and local pantries.

The teacher has started a pilot program within the school utilizing 20 stations that continue to grow food in the classrooms in impressive grow towers and has been planning and writing grants to massively grow the program further that would see a climate-controlled growing unit onsite that would operate year-round to grow fresh and nutritious food for students and local organizations in need. He also touched base on long term plans that would see a facility rehabbed to grow the endeavor even further.

His program touches elementary, junior high and high school classes.

To wrap up the presentations, CAO Directors Luanne Valentine, Barb Gibson, and Angie Davis spoke on many CAO programs addressing food disparities in the county, including WIC, summer feeding programs, and senior nutrition programs.

“I’m glad we were able to celebrate National Nutrition Month by hosting the Hunger Summit. The event gave us an opportunity to bring community members and partners together to discuss ways of alleviating hunger in the area, because it is a very real, human problem we face,” Valentine said. “We are in the middle of planning CAO’s summer youth nutrition services, as well as other programming across the agency, to address nutritional deficits. Getting feedback from other partners is important, especially with the flexibility being offered by our funders; we believe that we can positively impact this problem if we continue to get the right voices in the room together.”

Also, in attendance were many local vendors, including OSU Extension, Ohio Association of Foodbanks, Ohio Department of Education, Area Agency on Aging, Help Me Grow, Freestore Foodbank, iSee with Vision to Learn, Watch Me Grow Ohio, Potter’s House Scioto County WIC Program, CAO Senior Nutrition, CAO Workforce and Community Development, AmeriHealth Caritas.

The event closed after lectures and many discussions between just over 50 attendees and CAO now begins planning for the 2024 summit, which will take place at the CAO Welcome Center in March. This event is free and open to the public.

Community Action Organization of Scioto County is a 501©3 nonprofit serving Scioto County. CAO strives to develop and implement strategies which appropriately mix advocacy and education, direct provision of services through agency administered programs and coordination of CAO activities with those of all other institutions, agencies and groups serving those in need.

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