Virtual rally, call to action for Hunger Free Day in Kentucky

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – A rally took place online Thursday to help fight food insecurity in Kentucky. Local and state leaders joined in the discussion virtually.

To help raise awareness, Gov. Andy Beshear signed a proclaimation live during the virtual rally designating Jan. 28, 2021 as Hunger Free Day in Kentucky.

Katrina Thompson, with Feeding Kentucky, said one in five adults in the state and one in four children are food insecure. She added the pandemic has only increased the need.

Thompson said food banks in the Feeding Kentucky network distributed 79 million meals from July 2019 to June 2020. She also credits efforts like the Kentucky Hunger Initiative.

Agriculture Commissioner Dr. Ryan Quarles started the Kentucky Hunger Initiative five years ago. Last year, Quarles said they were proud to accept the biggest donation ever by the Kentucky Farm Bureau for $500,000.

“We used that money to buy up goods from Kentucky farmers,” said Quarles.

And the struggle is all too familiar for Alisha Mays who shared a personal account of what it’s like to grow up hungry in Richmond.

Mays said her food story began in 1991 when she was born from an undernourished woman and her dad was busy working two jobs. She described going to bed hungry and her family often debating whether to pay the bills or buy food.

Mays then outlined her experience with anorexia.

“I didn’t even know what an eating disorder was,” said Mays. “I missed food.”

Mays said her personal experience led to the disorder, “My life of hunger had led me to believe food was the enemy.”

It was after her struggle Mays says she learned to use her voice. Mays said she provided for her family as soon as she could and continues to even now by studying food insecurity and its affect on humans at the University of Kentucky.

Mays says she’s hopeful that sharing her story will lead to positive change, “Your voice is important and I will always continue using mine in hopes of you using yours.”

Sen. Paul Hornback, Senate Agriculture Chairman with the 20th House district, thanked Mays for her firsthand account, adding the importance of getting food to kids at school, “Even the kids realize the difference between the fresh fruits and vegetables that the food banks are getting to the schools.”

Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Richard Heath, touted the Farm to Food Bank program, saying when we help our state farmers, we help everyone.

Rep. Heath also talked about Farmers Suicide Prevention Day and that it’s, “important to recognize farmers and their mental health.”

Heath outlined the importance of House Bill 420 and 311 and the role legislators play.

Feeding Kentucky board chair Kurt Reiber addressed feeding children in particular, noting eight out of 10 children in the Commonwealth rely on school meals to make ends meet.

“We don’t have an issue with food supply,” explained Reiber. “It’s a logistics issue. It’s a funding issue.”

The day was also used as a call to action.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron talked about the upcoming Legal Food Frenzy which calls on the legal community to engage in a friendly competition to support the needs of Kentuckians.

Cameron said more than one million meals have been donated thanks to the food frenzy. Cameron also issued the challenge Thursday, noting registration begins March 1, for teams to raise 400,000 pounds for Kentucky’s food banks.

In addition to the proclamation, Gov. Beshear made a surprise announcement about leftover inauguration funding.

“We ended up with a surplus and today I’ve got a check for $15,673 which we are going to donate to Feeding Kentucky,” said Gov. Beshear. “I can’t think of a better place to send these funds that were raised at a time of hope and celebration, but sending them to Kentuckians that need the help the most, an organization i know is gonna do so much with it.”

Rally organizers also encourage the greater community to get involved with furthering the message on social media, encouraging people to Tweet about food insecurity and how to reach out to legislators. You can view talking points HERE.

During a virtual event Thursday morning, the governor praised the advocates and workers on the front line helping to make sure Kentucky families stay fed, work made tougher by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the best of times, your work is daunting. During COVID, it has been nothing short of heroic,” Beshear said. “The entire commonwealth owes you all a debt of gratitude but also – crucially – more than just words of thanks. Your efforts deserve our full support.”

“This donation is another sign of my commitment to fighting hunger and my administration’s belief in you, our indispensable Team Kentucky partners,” the Governor said.

“We are grateful for Gov. Beshear’s continued support of Feeding KY and the one in 5 Kentuckians we serve,” said Karena Cash, advocacy coordinator for Feeding Kentucky. “The Governor’s generous donation today will help ensure that no family in Kentucky has to go to bed hungry tonight, or any night.”

Beshear said that the work of Feeding Kentucky and other groups is crucial, with 600,000 Kentuckians relying on food from such organizations. In addition, he also noted that one in six Kentucky households with children experiences food insecurity. Kentucky also has the highest rate of food insecurity among adults ages 50 to 59.

Beshear highlighted the help his administration has worked to provide during the pandemic. P-EBT benefits have been provided to over 640,000 students. Those benefits totaled $288 million to provide meals to children who depend on school meals for their daily nutrition.

At the same time, the state provided SNAP benefits to an average of 100,000 more individuals each month compared with the previous year. SNAP is the first line of defense in Kentucky, and almost 70% of SNAP participants in Kentucky are in families with children. More than a third are in families with a senior or someone with a disability.

The benefits paid out over the final eight months of the last year were double the amount in 2019. In all, over $1 billion of SNAP benefits were provided to families, helping keep food on their tables while also helping local groceries stay open.

In addition, as of Jan. 11, more than 3 million meals had been served to Kentucky’s seniors since the start of the pandemic.

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