URI student changed by hunger survey experience

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — November 29, 2001 — “I’m ashamed to admit it, but before I took an introduction to hunger studies class, I profiled people who went to soup kitchens or food pantries. I thought they were low income families and from certain ethnic groups,” said University of Rhode Island student Kathleen Taylor of Pawtucket.

While enrolled in the class, Taylor was one of 15 URI students who took part in a survey of clients of pantries, kitchens, and shelters in Rhode Island as part of a nationwide study on hunger in America. Trained in a daylong session and paid for their work, the students went to sites in teams of three to four. In all, 358 clients were interviewed at 40 different sites around the state.

The survey was conducted by America’s Second Harvest, a national network of emergency food providers. It was the first, comprehensive study by that network in four years.

In mid-November, the Rhode Island Community Food Bank released the latest local statistics on hunger at a press conference. Results from the 80-question survey showed that the hunger problem in Rhode Island is getting worse, even for people who receive food stamps and/or visit food pantries. It also showed that increasingly people who work still need food assistance.

“One woman I interviewed stands out in my mind,” said Taylor who attends classes at URI’s Providence campus. “She was a single mom with two children. One child had disabilities that required care so the mom couldn’t work full time. She told me that she went without meals so that the kids could have enough.
In reality, none of them were eating enough fruits, vegetables, or even getting enough protein.
“Another woman had been laid off from the state. She was having a hard time finding work. She said she never thought that she would be in a position where she had to go to a food pantry to get food to eat.

“I came to realize that most of the clients I interviewed were hard working middle class Americans from all races, religions, and creeds,” said the 39-year-old URI sophomore. “Many were working, but they weren’t making enough to put food on their table after paying the rent and the utilities. They weren’t making a livable wage which is about double $6.15, the current minimum wage. Everyone was making much less than that.”

Taylor found her hunger studies class, taught by Kathleen Gorman director of the URI Feinstein Center for a Hunger Free America, and the survey a rich match. She saw firsthand what she read in her textbooks.

“I don’t think anyone walked away from the interviewing experience without being changed in some way. It strengthened my desire to earn a degree in dietetics and deepened my commitment to fight poverty and hunger in Rhode Island.”

“Our student participation was an important collaboration with the Rhode Island Community Food Bank,” said the hunger center director. “The results show that we have a very serious problem here and it’s not getting better.”

Noting that 43 percent of food program clients are under the age of 18, Gorman commented: “That equals to a staggering number of children and the problem goes beyond hunger. We have to be concerned about the children’s educational outcomes, their health outcomes, as well as their emotional well being.”

For Information: Jan Wenzel, 874-2116