Together We Can Provide Access to Healthy Food for Everyone

By Gordon McHenry, Jr., on October 28, 2022 | In Breaking the Cycle of Poverty, News

I grew up among those fortunate to have a hot breakfast served daily. I remember when I was younger, my brother Eric and I would walk to elementary school; it was always an adventure and sometimes a complaint. But for those years, it was preceded by my mom cooking a hot breakfast for my dad, my brother and me. That included toast, Malt-O-Meal, oatmeal or grits, eggs and bacon, with fruit or juice. And then she would shoo us out of the door with a hug and kiss and send us off to school.

Growing up my reality was coming together as a family and being well nourished before going off to school, and that carried us until lunchtime. And yet I realized that for many of my classmates, that was not the case.  

It’s always stuck with me, and that’s why preventing hunger is a part of the work I’ve always been so passionate about—first at Solid Ground and now at United Way. I believe we must always consider what we as a community can do to ensure all residents have fair, equitable and affordable access to basic needs.

This is the time of year when the weather turns colder, and more consideration is given to how people are faring without access to nutritious food while braving the elements. But before our seasons change, let us change our mindset. The truth is people in our region have scarcely had a break from the skyrocketing food, rent and utility costs that maligned the post-pandemic recovery. And the seasons have provided little relief.

The upcoming wet and cold season will follow a summer and fall that, once again, was marked by some of the world’s worst air quality due to smoke from fires in the region. Those with respiratory illnesses who lived in food deserts had no choice but to put their health at risk to travel for necessities. For them, the cold weather season is a continuum of the challenges they face year-round. It is paramount that we meet them where they are—throughout the year—with fair and equitable access to nutritious food.

Healthy eating is something that we identify, as a minimum, as essential to function, to learn, to work and to thrive. And food is more than nourishment; it is in part how families and communities take care of themselves. The sad reality is that there are far too many of us in our region who don’t have access to healthy, nutritious food, and there is a disproportionality associated with that, it can be correlated to race, ethnicity and geography. That must be a constant reminder for those of us who have access.

The sad reality is that there are far too many of us in our region who don’t have access to healthy, nutritious food, and there is a disproportionality associated with that, it can be correlated to race, ethnicity and geography.

United Way of King County CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr.

When I served as president and CEO of Solid Ground, a Seattle/King County-based organization that connects people with resources to help gain stability and build stronger futures, we launched a weekly shuttle service to grocery stores for some of the residents living in temporary and permanent supportive housing. The shuttle service started after we heard stories of residents going to 7-Eleven for groceries. I asked, “Why are they not going to Safeway or QFC?” And the answer was that they didn’t have transportation. The shuttle service immediately solved the problem.

Now at United Way, we are conducting our Home Grocery Delivery Program, reaching 6,700 King County residents a week with culturally specific meals. It marks the second time in five years that I’ve heard from community about the power of food delivery that is not dependent on having wealth. The people in our community need this, and that’s why United Way campaign co-chair Patty Meden and I co-authored an op-ed to the Seattle Times about the need to do more of this. Everyone deserves the ability to make choices about the food they and their families eat, and to access that food in a dignified manner.

That is why the correlation between food and productivity among school children should surprise no one, and a society whose policymakers ensure that all school children have access to nutritious meals is one that will see positive outcomes all the time. So, at United Way we have a focus on free and reduced meals, weekend backpacks and the legislation around Breakfast After the Bell. Whether that is something that a younger person wants or not, everyone should be entitled to it. 

Basic needs such as healthy, nutritious food are fundamentally linked to our humanity. Providing access to food for everyone, regardless of race, geography, ethnicity or income, is something we will always be committed to at United Way. Join us in this effort!


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