Athens Nonprofits Address Food Insecurity By Providing Aid to Hungry Children, Families

Athens Farmers Market is located in downtown Athens, outside of Creature Comforts. This location is open every Wednesday from 5pm-8pm beginning in March and ending in November. (Photo/Serina Bergeron)

In 2024, we’re serving more individuals than ever due to inflation,” Geoff Rushing, founder of City of Refuge Athens, said.

When the price of gas goes up, or their power bill goes up, or groceries go up, they have to make a choice, am I going to pay my power bill, get my medication, or eat? Usually groceries fall to the bottom of the list.” 

This is the harsh reality for some people in the communities around Athens. Food insecurity is a problem that one in six Athens residents face, according to an annual food insecurity estimate conducted by Feeding America, last released in 2021. Programs like the City of Refuge and Athens FARM Rx are offering a helping hand to provide fresh produce and resources to women, men and children who are food insecure. 

Food Insecurity

Food insecurity is an issue that is driven by factors such as unemployment, education and lack of access. Individuals who are food insecure are at risk of developing diet related conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and other chronic diseases. 

Nearly 35 percent of food insecure individuals in Athens do not qualify for assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, meaning they are receiving no federal aid to help ensure they have sufficient access to food. This problem is specifically prevalent in children in Athens-Clarke County, as they face a 24% rate of food insecurity, which is roughly 5,200 children.  Then, 47% of Clarke-County residents live under the poverty line, which is the estimated minimum level of income needed to secure the necessities of life, and reside in food deserts, making food less accessible for them.

FARM Rx

Pictured above is produce available to FARM Rx participants.​ Participants can shop at the Athens Farmers Market located at 705 Sunset Drive every Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon. Roughly 40 vendors will be at the market weekly. (Photo/Serina Bergeron)

The Athens Farmers Market helps combat food insecurity with its FARM Rx program. This is a prescription program that prescribes fruits and vegetables to individuals with chronic, diet-related illnesses and individuals who are food insecure. Eligible individuals must be 18 years or older, food insecure, and have a way to store and prep food. 

“The idea is, people who have a diet related illness such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, some sort of health issue connected to a poor diet, and people who are food insecure are put into the program,” FARM RX manager Maya Alandete said. “Then you can determine that these diet related illnesses may be because they haven’t had consistent access to food. By putting them in the program, you increase access.”

Participants are able to shop for free at the weekly farmers markets, depending on their family size. In addition to a weekly spending allocation at the farmers markets, participants will be able to participate in informative classes, health checkups, and will have access to transportation to and from the farmers market and other events. 

By increasing two of the main drivers of food insecurity, access and education, this program hopes to improve quality of life for residents so they can be food secure in the future. 

“There are classes that they take in cooking, wellness, nutrition, and low impact exercise classes,” Alandete said.

There’s also classes that really just teach people about food, and about how to use the food that they’re getting seasonally. Because the idea is food insecurity is a systemic issue that connects to education and access. So if you really boil it down, it’s about improving quality of life.” 

Disparities by Race

There are even more disparities in food insecurity when factoring in race and ethnicity. A study done by the Federal Reserve Board shows that Black and Latino families have much less wealth than white families, with Black families’ median wealth being less than 15 percent of that of white families, and the median wealth of Latino families being about 20 percent that of white families.

It shows the gap is due to a history of structural and systemic racism.

The FARM Rx Program hopes to address this disparity by expanding access and having all of its materials translated into Spanish and providing classes in Spanish. 

“We have the funding to have between 100 and 110 participants. This will definitely be the most people we’ve had on the program, and I’m hoping to get about 75 English speaking participants and 25 Spanish speaking participants,” Alendete stated.  

This year’s program began in April and lasts through the end of the year. 

Graphic can be found at the FARM Rx program website: http://athensfarmersmarket.net/farmrx. Here you can learn more about program eligibility, apply to the program, find volunteer opportunities, and learn more about FARM Rx.

City of Refuge

Pictured above is the new location for the City of Refuge Athens. This location is where weekly meal distributions occur, according to the monthly distribution schedule. (Photo/Serina Bergeron)

The City of Refuge Athens is another nonprofit that works to ease the burden of food insecurity in the Athens community, and has the mission to serve families, children and individuals in Athens who are living in crisis.

“We partner with the Clarke County School District in the battle against food insecurity, especially due to the large number of children who are battling that right now,” City of Refuge founder Geoff Rushing said. 

The organization also partners with Madison County Schools, working with about 14 elementary schools. They provide weekly school bags for children that the school identifies as in need. 

We serve between 1,350 and 1,400 children every week with a food bag that helps them get through the weekend,” Rushing said.

As schools are approaching summer break, the nonprofit is preparing to begin a Summer Feeding Program. This summer-long food program lasts from June 5 until July 21 and will provide nutritious meals to Athens youth. Meals will include breakfast and lunch and will be offered to the community at six different summer school sites every Monday-Thursday. Adults also have the opportunity to receive a meal at the cost of $4.25.

In addition to their school feeding and summer feeding programs, the organization offers other programs geared toward helping families and individuals who struggle with food insecurity.

Pictured above is the location for Wednesday Food Distributions. Individuals who are food insecure can drive by during distribution hours and receive free boxes of food for themselves and their families. (Photo/Serina Bergeron)

The following chart shows the April 2024 grocery distribution schedule.

This monthly distribution schedule can be found in both English and Spanish on the City of Refuge’s website, https://www.cityofrefugeathens.org/. The schedule gets updated monthly.

The City of Refuge continues to expand, with the goal of helping as many families as possible. 

This is home,” said Rushing. “we know that we’re helping our neighbor. This is what we know that we’re called to do,” 

Serina Bergeron is a senior majoring in journalism at the University of Georgia. 

 

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