In Garfield, western Eagle and Pitkin counties, a silent struggle persists — a battle against food insecurity, which is defined as inadequate or inconsistent access to nutritious food. The Safe and Abundant Nutrition Alliance (SANA), a local volunteer network concerned about food insecurity in our community, has emerged as a beacon of hope in this fight, aiming to ensure no one goes hungry.
Last summer, SANA launched the “Hunger Doesn’t Have to Be a Secret” campaign by organizing a walk-and-run event in New Castle, which garnered support from 90 participants. The initiative aimed to raise awareness and eliminate the stigma surrounding seeking help during times of food insecurity.
The reality of living in a small community is that many people know each other, and the embarrassment of seeking help can be a deterrent. “That’s what we want to discuss with the ‘Hunger Doesn’t Have to Be a Secret’ campaign,” Soira Ceja, SANA’s community engagement coordinator, said. “Any of us could go through this. It doesn’t have to be a secret if you’re hungry; there are resources out there.”
To further this cause and shatter the stigma surrounding food insecurity, SANA is gearing up for another walk-and-run event on Aug. 26 at Burning Mountain Park in New Castle. The event emphasizes that hunger doesn’t have to be a secret and that resources are available for those in need.
When they started in 2019, SANA had 10 volunteers. Now they have over 50. Those volunteers are pivotal in connecting community members with vital resources, including food banks, social service programs and assistance in applying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, which help low-income families purchase food. To foster self-reliance, SANA also teaches community members how to grow their food and engage in gardening, canning and dehydrating food for preservation.
SANA’s dedication to understanding community needs first came through a 2019 survey of over 300 community members. The results highlighted that many families were struggling to afford healthier food options. The cost of groceries, Ceja said, forced some families to use credit cards to purchase food.
Maria Judith Alvarez Quiroz, SANA project director, emphasized the organization’s commitment to community-based, equitable solutions. By joining forces with community members and organizations, they strive to promote access to healthy food and provide valuable food and nutrition education to families in need.
Alvarez Quiroz, who is also a trained physician from Mexico, works at The People’s Clinic (La Clínica del Pueblo), operating out of the Third Street Center in Carbondale. She said over 85% of their clinic consultations involve patients whose diets primarily consist of less expensive processed foods which contain excessive amounts of salt, sugar, oil, preservatives or additives.
This unhealthy eating pattern contributes to weight gain and increases the likelihood of developing severe diseases such as diabetes, arterial hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid conditions and some forms of cancer. For children, a diet lacking in nutrition can lead to poor academic performance, dental issues and behavioral disorders, including anxiety.
The need for food assistance heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need continues as food costs remain unpredictable. The pandemic severely impacted vulnerable communities, who faced reduced incomes and, in some cases, unemployment.
You can register for the walk-and-run, in English or Spanish, at: www.bit.ly/SANA2023
Participation in the Aug. 26 event is free and open to all ages. Local organizations, including LIFT-UP, The People’s Clinic and The Salvation Army will be present to provide information about available resources. In-person registration begins at 7:30am, and the walk-and-run commences at 8 am.
Participants from the 2022 SANA walk-and-run gather for a photo. Like last year, families are encouraged to participate in the Aug. 26 event. Courtesy photo
A statewide survey by Hunger Free Colorado revealed that one in three Coloradans face food insecurity, a historical high for the state. Even more alarming, the survey highlighted stark inequities along racial lines when examining hunger.
– Among non-white and Latinx individuals, 43% are struggling to put food on the table, compared to 29% of white Coloradans.
– In households with children, 44% cannot consistently put healthy food on the table, posing risks to the long-term health and well-being of hundreds of thousands of children across the state.
– In households with children, 30% of the adults report regularly cutting back or skipping meals because there wasn’t enough money to buy food.