By: Rachel Cain – Staff Writer
Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, an advisor to Pope Francis and Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, joined local speakers in a call for solidarity on food insecurity in Dayton, and across the globe, Tuesday. Catholic Social Services and Weavers of Justice co-hosted the press conference, which was held at the Catholic Social Services Center for Families on Brown Street.
“This country is blessed by the Lord with abundance,” Rodriguezsaid. “We must raise consciousness that there’s hunger in this country. Through solidarity, we can beat the plague of hunger.”
The Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley’s food pantry serves over 18,000 adults and children annually, making it the busiest food-distribution pantry in the greater Dayton area, according to its website.
Two speakers who have received assistance from the food pantry gave testimonies about their personal experiences with poverty.
“The cost of medicine left me with no money to buy food,” Rubi Taylor, a Dayton resident with multiple sclerosis, said. “For too many homes, the first priority is finding money to pay for food.”
Rodriguez said the solution to widespread hunger is through solidarity with the poor. He believes there is enough food to feed the world’s population, but it must be redistributed because some people waste too much food and others go hungry.
According to the Ohio Food Bank’s latest report on hunger, Ohio is ranked sixth nationally in the rate of how many people go hungry. Almost 17 percent of people suffer from food insecurity in Ohio, and Dayton ranks in the top five cities for food insecurity. The United Nations World Food Program states that over 800 million people on earth do not get enough food to support a healthy life. The United Nations Environment Program reported that nearly a third of food produced in the world, or 1.3 billion tons, is wasted or lost before it is consumed.
A higher percentage of people in Dayton go hungry than in many developing countries where only about 14 percent of people go hungry, reports the United Nations Food Program.
Poor nutrition also accounts for nearly 50 percent of deaths in children under the age of five.
The Dayton Food Bank provides food for many of the poor in the community. Around 70,000 individuals were provided with nourishment last year by the food bank.
Over 70 percent of families and individuals who have food provided by the Dayton Food Bank are employed, but have to worry about paying rent, medical bills or going to school more than buying food for themselves.
Almost 80 percent of the Food Bank’s workers are volunteers and Rodriguez wants more people to have a hand in the operation.
Rodriguez made a point that these statistics are not just a problem in the current world. This has been a problem for a long time, and there are possibilities for this long standing problem to be eliminated.
Rodriguez recounted the biblical story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, in which five loaves and two fish are sufficient to feed a crowd of five thousand people. His interpretation of the story is that everyone could eat – not because the bread and fish multiplied, but because the members of the crowd started sharing their own food.
“It’s a miracle of multiplying solidarity,” Rodriguez said. “When we can unite solidarity, there is food for all.”
Pam Long, the regional director of the catholic social action office, talked about the hunger solidarity challenge.
Long said the challenge takes place Sunday through March 28, in which participants will obtain their food as if they are low-income residents. For instance, participants may only spend $4.50 on food and beverages daily, which is the average Ohio food stamp and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit. Participants should also walk to gas stations or dollar stores to buy their food.
“It’s going to be tough, but it’s also an opportunity to be in solidarity with those who are struggling to put food on the table,” Long said.
Participants in the challenge are also encouraged to donate the money they save on food to social justice organizations.
“[Ending hunger] is possible through communities and organizations,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez received the Archbishop Oscar Romero Human Rights award at the University of Dayton later that evening. He is president of Caritas Internationalis, an organization dedicated to following their Catholic mission to “to serve the poor and to promote charity and justice throughout the world,” according to their official website.