Hunger Summit slated for November


United WayUnited Way of Eastern Fairfield County announced today that a Hunger Summit, scheduled for November 8, will begin at 8:30 a.m. in the Barone Campus Center at Fairfield University, a co-sponsor of the event. The Summit will be focused on ending hunger and the causes of hunger in Bridgeport and the surrounding towns. "The key question for our work on the 8th is 'What will it take to end hunger?'," stated Rev. Dr. Brian Schofield-Bodt, President and CEO of The Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport, a co-sponsor of the Summit.

More than 100 participants are expected, representing area non-profits, places of worship, schools, local and state government and businesses. Hunger Summit participants will be welcomed by Town of Fairfield First Selectman Kenneth Flatto and Fairfield University President Rev. Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J. Also addressing those assembled that day will be Senator John McKinney (R-Fairfield) and Merle Berke-Schlessel, CEO/President of the United Way. Other speakers have been invited but are not yet confirmed.

The day is planned as a working session, geared to defining both short-term and longer-term strategies for ending hunger and its causes. At the root of the problem of hunger is poverty. Far too many people in local towns find the cost of living exceeds their income. Addressing the problem of hunger means increasing the economic self-sufficiency of low-income people.

Co-Chairing the United Way Impact Committee charged with ending hunger and whose membership first suggested a Hunger Summit, are Susan Beauregard, GE and Thomas Castelot, Soundview Media Group. "We have a great group of dedicated individuals who are committed to finding lasting solutions to the hunger problem in our community," stated Castelot. "We know that the emergency food assistance providers would like to further help their clients become self-sufficient and rely less on emergency services," he continued. "Our goal for this event is to develop some concrete strategies that will permanently reduce and eliminate the problem of hunger."

A network of food pantries and soup kitchens operates in area communities to distribute food directly to those in need. This Hunger Outreach Network is supported administratively by The Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport. Through the Network, individually operated pantries and soup kitchens share information and coordinate community-wide efforts. This group of 34 food providers are the "on-the-ground" community-based sites that are providing emergency food assistance and other support services to thousands of our residents on a daily basis. Together they provide 93,000 meals to needy area individuals and families each month.

While starvation is not something we typically see in this country, people make difficult choices about food every day. Skipping meals and cutting back on food quality leads to chronic, mild or malnutrition that has harmful effects on learning, development, productivity, physical and psychological health, and family life. Hunger reduces our children’s ability to focus on school, decreases workers' productivity, and weakens an elderly person’s resistance to disease. Additionally, when families are desperate to find something to feed their children, they may make choices based on cost and not nutritional value.

"When we talk about hunger in our community, we refer to the ability of individuals and families to obtain sufficient food for their household. Families here in Fairfield County are choosing between rent, medical care and food," stated Merle Berke-Schlessel, United Way of Eastern Fairfield County President & CEO. According to the Connecticut Food Bank, of those using food pantries and soup kitchens, 42% had to choose between paying for food or utilities, 34% had to choose between food or paying rent, and 30% had to choose between food or medical care. And that is not just their own medical care; it is the medical care of their children.

The economic cost of hunger includes not only the costs to each organization that helps these families on a daily basis, but also the costs of impaired educational outcomes and mental and physical ailments related to children not receiving proper nutrition. An additional factor that is a by-product of these choices is the problem of obesity. The long-term implications of all these factors is increasing costs that can only be avoided through a long-term strategic approach to ending hunger and its root causes.

The Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport was founded in 1945 with a mission to "to act together...people of faith...connecting to change lives and strengthen community." For over 60 years they have worked in partnership with area congregations, community groups, local foundations, and individuals who share their commitment to help care for those in need. Their mission is focused in three areas: Kids, Poverty and Crisis, and Faith in Action.

Fairfield University has created the Center for Faith and Public Life, a cross-disciplinary forum for students, scholars, policy makers and religious leaders, to converse and reflect on the many issues where religion intersects with civic life. The Center views faith as a way to link the University to local, national and international communities and to prepare and mobilize people for intelligent participation in political and community life. In addition, students in the Social Justice Club will be participating in the Hunger Summit. The organization aims to raise awareness about injustices and poverty in the United States and abroad.

United Way of Eastern Fairfield County's mission is to mobilize a stronger, more caring community across Bridgeport, Easton, Fairfield, Monroe, Stratford and Trumbull. We are focused on the underlying causes of our most difficult problems, including hunger, and creating preventative measures to ensure these problems do not recur. While many organizations address one issue, United Way focuses on the entire community. We are bringing people together from all across the community - people from government, business, faith groups, nonprofits, and ordinary citizens - to tackle the issues that matter most. United Way is committed to the bottom line results: the lives we change and the communities we shape. Find out more at www.thewaytocare.org.

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on October 29, 2007