Hunger and malnutrition are a worldwide reality. According to the World Hunger Programme, 925 million people worldwide do not get enough food to remain healthy. Hunger can be caused by political and environmental issues, as well as poverty.
Manhattan is not exempt from hunger and poverty. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 24.7 percent of Manhattan residents live below the poverty line, putting area residents at a higher risk of food insecurity. With more than double the average rate of poverty for the entire state of Kansas, hunger has taken the center stage for the Manhattan community, as well as K-State students and staff.
“The biggest thing about hunger is that it takes many forms and shapes,” said Sandy Procter, assistant professor in human nutrition.
Hunger is defined as not having the means to purchase enough food. There is no single cause of hunger; many individual problems can contribute to it such as lack of financial resources, availability of food or lack of education.
These key causes of hunger could change for any individual based on the situation they are faced with, said Maribeth Kieffer, executive director of the Flint Hills Breadbasket, 905 Yuma Street, which provides food to those in need.
“There aren’t any two people that are alike when they come here,” Kieffer said. “It really depends on what happened to bring them into the Breadbasket.”
According to the Flint Hills Breadbasket website, the organization distributed 541,079 pounds of food and served 16,480 families in 2011, the latest year of available statistics.
One issue surrounding hunger is the misconceptions about what hunger “looks like,” and who may be at risk for being chronically hungry, Keiffer said.
“People see Manhattan as a fluent town, and they don’t realize there is a percent of people with these needs,” Kieffer said. “You do not realize the extent of the hunger that is in Manhattan until you have experienced it yourself.”
Another common misconception is that individuals who are overweight or obese cannot be hungry. That is not true, said April Mason, provost and senior vice president of K-State.
“People believe that if you are overweight you are not hungry, but you can still be overweight and be hungry,” Mason said.
Mason also said that an additional misconception is that some people believe that individuals who utilize food assistance programs should just work harder, or stop “being lazy.” Mason said that this is not necessarily true.
“We see people who are poor that are working three jobs, and working as hard as they possibly can, but they may not have the education to have a job that pays living wage such that they can buy food for their families,” Mason said.
While the Flint Hills Breadbasket and other Manhattan organizations work to help relieve hunger in the local communities, K-State students are tackling hunger on a global level.
Students and instructors in the School of Leadership Studies attended the “Raising the Volume: Universities Fighting World Hunger Summit” in Overland Park, Kan. in early March. At the conference, students and instructors listened to speakers, talked to other university students and addressed hunger on local and world levels.
“As students attending, our goal was to identify service-learning projects that could be adapted to Kansas State and the Manhattan area,” said Mallory Patten, sophomore in public relations. “Other university students wanted to address the issues of collaboration and commitment to fighting world hunger globally.”
The Kansas Hunger Dialogue, held at K-State, also brought hunger to the forefront. These two events informed students, professors and individuals about how to speak out and be an advocate for hunger.
“Students can play a crucial role in fighting hunger—not only in our state, but globally,” said John Mosier, executive director for the Kansas Campus Compact.
Campus Compact is a national organization with 35 state affiliates (Kansas has 13 campuses) who promote, recognize and fund service learning and civic engagement on campuses across the state.
“We want campuses and students to implement service-learning projects that will align with their interests and their passions,” Mosier said.
Whether it is becoming more educated, volunteering in the community, holding a food drive, informing others through social media or becoming a supporter of the hunger cause, students can have an impact on the issue.
“Hunger is a multifaceted problem, with no simple solutions,” Procter said. “But it is solvable.”