Turning tables on food insecurity in the Chippewa Valley - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Turning tables on food insecurity in the Chippewa Valley

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Eau Claire County (WQOW) -  Eau Claire County wants to turn the tables on food insecurity.  The problem is common and often misunderstood. 

Drew Hagen is living with food insecurity and says," It's sadly cheaper to buy a packet of Kool-Aid than it is something healthy."  That statement serves as a perfect example of food insecurity.

"We think of hunger, but many people aren't necessarily hungry, especially if there are overweight issues. So, really it is limited and uncertain availability of food for a healthy, active lifestyle," explains Nancy Coffey, Eau Claire County/UW-Extension Nutrition Coordinator.

Renee Papesh and her family are living with food insecurity and she says, "Nutrition is not the first thing running through your mind, it's how do I feed my kids? How do I feed my family and make sure they're not going to bed hungry?"

One out of about every 10 people in Eau Claire County is dealing with food insecurity.  Of those, almost half are children. Drew says,"My kids can't go to the fridge or the cupboard and eat whatever they want at any time." 

Drew and his fiancee, Sylvia, are always planning.  Planning their next meal and paying attention to portions. "My kids don't go to school hungry but it certainly means sacrifice from mom or dad sometimes. Not being full and knowing that they are," explains Drew.    

Right now, Drew is a full-time student at UW-Eau Claire. He says, "It's really tough, sometimes the easiest thing in the world would be to, as a student, to stop going to school and go out and work. While that wouldn't solve all the problems, because even when I was working, it's still not enough."

As a full time student, the only source of income comes from Sylvia's disability and Drew's financial aid.

Renee is also expanding her education, working toward her nursing degree at UWEC. She says, "For the past four years we were on food stamps, My husband just graduated from his program and now he's working full time. So, we're not on food stamps anymore, but we're still in this limbo where there are times we have to pay bills and then there's $20 left over until the next week, so what do you do?"

For Renee, the answer is being thrifty.  When she's not studying, she's selling goat cheese at the farmers market, which she trades for fruits and vegetables with other vendors. "It's all local and it's cheaper than the grocery store, and it makes me feel good to buy food from local farmers and it's more nutritious," says Renee.  

Drew says, "The fruit and vegetable markets that they have are great. But still, you need money to do that. You need something out of the budget to do that."

So what are the solutions?  Nancy Coffey had a number of ideas.  "We know that the more fast food restaurants there are, the more people tend not to eat as well so we need to think about that as far as city policy," says Coffey.  Eau County has the highest percentage of fast food restaurants than any other county in Wisconsin. Coffey also points to higher wages and better access to healthy food. She says, "We do know, if people have a grocery store very close to them, within a mile, especially if they have transportation issues, they tend to eat better."

For Drew and Renee, the key is their education. Drew says, "Because it really is this cycle, to where the easiest thing to do is, that's life, I'm stuck and it's always going to be this way, hand to mouth. I think an education is the first step in breaking that cycle."

"I know that once I graduate and get a job, I will have the satisfaction and know that I'm putting back what I used and helping others," explains Renee. 

The Eau Claire community will be taking a deeper look at the solutions to food insecurity later this month.

A documentary about the issue will be shown followed by a panel discussion.  The event is free.  It will be held at the Davies Center at UW-Eau Claire on Monday night, September 23rd.

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