The Ottumwa Courier


February 26, 2014

Taking aim against hunger

OTTUMWA — Aiming without shooting isn't going to bring a hunter dinner. Shooting without aiming can be a whole lot worse.

"We have to strike a balance between research and action," said Desiree Johnson, director of the United Way of Wapello County.

Johnson is now part of a large group of agencies working together to fight hunger in Wapello County. Johnson said school teachers are actually seeing hungry kids trying to study with their tummies growling. More than half of Ottumwa kids, she said, fall into that category.

This group is not a new agency; it's more like an all-star team composed of one or two representatives from each agency.

Members of the consortium include a core "working group," including SIEDA Community Action, United Way, American Home Finding, Food Bank of Southern Iowa, Salvation Army, Hy-Vee, Lord's Cupboard, ISU Extension, Market on Main, Wapello County Public Health, Ottumwa's First United Methodist Church, Ottumwa school district, business owner Stacie Latham and Wapello County Central Point of Contact.

The plan for the "food security consortium" is to determine a specific topic, deliberate on it, then take action. That plan allows for research so the group can aim and fire at hunger successfully. Many participants had already pointed out lessons they've learned the hard way: nonstop talk about a problem doesn't resolve it.

To prevent that, the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation has found and hired a consultant.

"My job is to make sure something happens," said Amber Payne of Payne Enterprises.

And because the various "members" of the consortium have other projects to handle, Payne has been instructed to "take ownership" of the initiative. She hopes to have some action plans in place by 2015.

Wapello County is the third most food insecure county in the state, Payne said, but that's not as simple as it may sound. For example, she warned, don't confuse being food insecure with being poor. Enough money for a sufficient amount of food may not benefit someone with no transportation, for example. Someone in an expensive home may be overextended or may suddenly have had their work hours reduced.

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