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Food Security Council creates plan of action

John Cameron | Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The West Side Food Security Council — a coalition of 16 community leaders and six Notre Dame students — met Jan. 28 to create a plan of action in addressing the problem of food insecurity in South Bend.

Student government’s eND Hunger campaign, an initiative of the student body president Catherine Soler and student body vice president Andrew Bell’s administration, led the council’s formation. Beth Simpson, chair of the campaign, said residents are not having trouble with the amount of food so much as the type of food they have access to.

“There’s a high percentage of South Bend residents who experience food insecurity. Food security is the more proper way to describe hunger in America today,” she said. “Americans today aren’t struggling with a lack of food in general but rather a lack of healthy food options.”

Simpson said a crucial initial step in addressing the issue was soliciting community feedback.

“We sought first of all to gauge what it is the community articulates as its needs,” she said.

This feedback was fielded during three meetings with the council, the third of which resulted in two solutions for food insecurity, the first of which is in the form of direct aid for families eligible for food stamps.

“The fund will double the value of purchases made by food stamps and WIC [Women Infants Children] on local, healthy produce,” she said. “Our council, right now, is seeking to articulate the exact structure of this fund as well as beginning to look into funding opportunities.”

The second facet of the plan is a community center focused on nutrition-related issues. The Student International Business Council will be heading up the business planning of the center, which will be constructed in the LaSalle Square area — an area of high poverty.

“It’s one of the regions of highest poverty, around LaSalle Square. It’s an identified food desert, so there is no access to a grocery store,” she said. “Within the two mile radius of LaSalle square, 28 percent of the residents have a [household] income of less than $15,000, and 50 percent have an income of less than $28,000 a year, meaning 50 percent of them are food-stamp eligible.”

The community center would house the Urban Garden Market, one of the non-profits whose leaders serve on the council. The center could also hold a small-scale grocer and possibly house the Purple Porch Co-op, another member of the council, which could potentially vend produce to residents.

Simpson said the center would also serve as a place for residents to engage the problem of food insecurity personally.

“Our center will have a kitchen in it. That kitchen will be used for cooking demonstrations and nutritional education,” she said. “We’re also looking into how to incorporate micro-venturing within the center. We recognize sustainability is key but most important is that the community has ownership and is invested.”

The council’s work, Simpson said, is a unique opportunity for the Notre Dame community to work with the South Bend community in a multitude of ways.

“It’s exciting for Notre Dame students because this is an entirely organic initiative. The council arose because of the vision of Notre Dame student government and the Center for Social Concerns coming together,” she said.

After the council meets on the Feb. 18 to break into subcommittees, Simpson plans to hold an informational meeting for students looking to get involved, tentatively scheduled for Feb. 21.

“I encourage interested students to attend the meeting on the 21st and also just to contact me at esimpso4@nd.edu.”

Simpson said the council’s work is a natural extension of the University’s mission as a Catholic institution.

“It’s Catholic identity is one thing that distinguishes this University, in particular that our academics are driven by a core set of values, among them service to the community,” she said. “This initiative represents a means by which students can engage through service, academics and direct involvement in the community to live out the University’s Catholic mission.”