Presbyterians Today

NOV-DEC 2018

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26 NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018 | Pr e s by te r i a n s To d ay avid gardeners who bring their fresh foods into church to share and take to the food pantry. First Presbyterian Church also has a gardening program in coordina- tion with Lutheran Social Services that teaches people coming out of juvenile incarceration how to grow vegetables. "Juvenile offenders are taught what they can do with fresh foods. They also learn a skill that they can use when they return to the world," Halva said. Rural obesity on the rise It's ironic that when talking about food insecurity and food deserts in rural America, one must talk about the growing rate of obesity as well. In June 2018, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released their latest findings, reveal- ing the following: 22 percent of rural youth were obese, compared with 17 percent of urban youth; 47 percent of rural women were obese, compared with 38 percent of urban women; and 39 percent of rural men were obese, compared with 32 percent of urban men. While rural obesity has many factors to consider, such as lack of access to gyms and weight loss support groups, the reliance on discount stores for food plays a role in rural obesity, pastors observe. And often, Dollar General is men- tioned when talking about the bless- ings and curses of rural discount stores. In 2014, the discount chain, which began in small-town Kentucky in 1955, identified 14,000 potential rural areas to open new stores in. The company's philosophy has been to go where others aren't going. That is, when other national chains look down on rural communities due to a lack of economic sustainability, Dollar General doesn't. The company has become an unlikely savior of sorts, providing forgotten custom- ers with just about everything they factory, she points out — are the main industries. "Seminary certainly didn't prepare me for rural ministry. I joke with friends that if they need hands-on experience, come out here because they'll just throw you right in," Morrison said. Among the ministry challenges she has been "thrown into" is the growing problem of hunger. "Even though we are in an agri- cultural area, we have a lot of food insecurity in our community. Much of this is due to the low-paying jobs in the area. More folks are living paycheck to paycheck," she said. And while Torrington is "lucky to have two grocery stores," many people find it hard to afford the gro- ceries from them, Morrison says. Rising food prices are not only a trend in Wyoming, but nationwide. In 2018, the United States Department of Agriculture predicted a 2 to 3 percent increase in the price of veal and beef, a 4 to 5 percent increase in the price of eggs, and a 3 to 4 percent increase in the price of cereal and bakery items. "The only place that does offer 'cheap' food is the nearest Walmart, which is 40 miles across the state line in Nebraska. But one must have reliable transportation to get there," Morrison said. Being able to get to good and affordable food is a challenge in rural communities. The problem, though, goes beyond owning a reliable car and having money to fill its gas tank. In Marion, Illinois, the Rev. Wade Halva of First Presbyterian Church sees the lack of public transportation adding to the rural hunger problem. "The public housing in Marion is on the south side of town. The grocery stores are on the north side, across a four-lane highway with a 55-mile-an-hour speed limit. For people on foot, these stores are nearly inaccessible, so they often shop at dollar stores, drugstores or the ubiquitous gas station, which all have higher costs and less healthy food," Halva said. Halva's congregation does what it can to ease food insecurity and create an oasis amid the food desert. In addition to traditional church outreach such as serving at soup kitchens and preparing meals for those in transitional housing, Halva says there are church members who "mini farm" and who are COURTESY OF LISA ZAHALKA Empty grocery stores like this one in Bloomfield, Kentucky, are common sights in rural America. Small populations are not attractive to national supermarket chains, so residents are left in food deserts.

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