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Leaders Brainstorm Ways to Combat Hunger in Connecticut

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro meets with those who provide food to the hungry to brainstorm ways to combat threatened funding cuts.

Everyone sitting in a conference room at Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity Thursday morning had a common concern: the hungry.

Their concern stems from several years of economic turmoil that has resulted in cuts to programs that provide food to the hungry, the most recent of which is a budget passed by the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives. U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., says, the budget "devastates" the Food Stamp program.

DeLauro led Thursday's conversation on how to promote public policy that supports additional funding for such programs because, she said, the need is great despite the state's reputation for wealth. There are 405,000 Connecticut residents receiving food stamps, she said.

"To me, it's scary what is going on," she said. "We are in the bulls eye here and it's about the people who face the risk of hunger every single day...I think there is a story to be told that is not being told, and that is the story that we are broke and the first place we are cutting is food and nutrition."

About half of those in the state who could be labeled as "food insecure" do not quality for food stamps, said Nancy Carrington, president of the Connecticut Food Bank. 

"These are the people who are going to emergency programs like food banks and soup kitchens," she said, adding that donations are down and it's been tough to keep up. "We cannot food bank ourselves out of this situation."

Judy Amarone sees the face of hunger every day as the manager of the North Haven Senior Center.

"It's the older face that I'm seeing that is hungry," she said.

And often, those that are in need are not willing to ask for or accept help, she said.

"They're too embarrassed to accept food stamps or go to food banks," she said, so often she will go to the food banks for them to get supplies. "They are proud."

And for those willing to accept help, it's often almost impossible to navigate the bureaucracy to get it, she said. The "simplified" application for food stamps is nine pages long and too complicated for many seniors to complete without help, she said.

For many seniors, Meals on Wheels is their main source of nourishment, but it's been difficult providing that for a number of reasons, according to Director Jonathan Reiner. Last year, funding cuts limited the program to only four days a week, and while this year those cuts have been restored, they are dealing with state and federal nutritional mandates that can mean more waste.

"It's great nutrition but it is making it cost more and giving too much food," he said. "We hear a lot of the seniors want lighter meals, and we are forcing them to eat what they don't want to eat."

While they may just want a cup of soup and a sandwich, because of nutritional requirements, a meal will come with a meat like turkey, with potatoes and vegetables and desert and milk, Reiner said.

"How much milk gets thrown out?" he said. "Who drinks milk with turkey?"

"These are problems that are fixable," DeLauro said.

But many in Washington just don't get it, she said. During one session, it was asked who makes up the bulk of the hungry in America, DeLauro said, and they were told it is children, the disabled and senior citizens.

"They wanted to know if there was any job training available for them," she said. "What are we going to do -- train children to be janitors?"

There are no quick and easy answers, DeLauro said.

"This has become a mission for me, and I know it is a mission for you every day," she told the group.

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