Compelled by the belief that hunger is unacceptable in any community, a local organization has formed a council to develop a 10-year strategy to end chronic hunger and food insecurity in Kern County.
"People know the problem of food insecurity exists so being able to bring people around a table and start a conversation about it is great because that is when change begins," said Tomeka Powell, administrative analyst at the Community Action Partnership of Kern. She's excited about the changes the council can make.
And the time for change is now. Just last week the Food Hardship in America 2012 report showed Kern is in the unenviable spot of No. 1 in the country for "food hardship."
The Community Action Partnership of Kern, through funding from the United Way of Kern County and the California Endowments, has recruited 13 community members to serve on the Kern Food Policy Council. They held their first member orientation Feb. 28 to discuss plans and ideas.
The council will look at creating new community gardens, coordinating sectors in the food system, launching support programs and services and creating community engagement advocacy.
Council members want to make sure they pay attention to areas in Kern that need the most help, and ones that aren't getting enough help now. This would include east Kern, Lake Isabella, Arvin, Lamont, Kernville and any other outlying communities.
"We want to make sure that what our food system looks like in Kern County is a direct reflection of the aspirations we have to help end food hunger in the community," said Jill Egland, vice president of community impact at the United Way of Kern County.
Part of what that makes the council unique and promising, according to Powell, is the diversity of age, gender and background of the members.
From a Panama-Buena Vista Union School District teacher to a Journey Air Conditioning mechanical engineer, these people are enthusiastic about being part of a groundbreaking idea to help fight hunger.
Sheila Kerber, a seventh-grade science teacher at Earl Warren Junior High School, saw an ad in the newspaper about the council seeking members to join the fight against hunger. She was immediately drawn to the idea.
"My degree is in food nutrition and I do a lot of reading about food policy, agriculture, school lunches and different programs through social networking so I know I can provide some ideas to the council," Kerber said.
Another council member is Ian Journey, a mechanical engineer at Journey Air Conditioning, whose passion for food led him to be part of the council.
"Food is very dear to my heart because I love to cook," he said. "I may not be in the food or agriculture industry but imagining kids not having enough food to eat on a daily basis, just isn't right and being a part of something like this is a great start."
The council's ultimate goal is to have 21 members as part of the team that will raise awareness in the community.
"We see the reports and statistics but we really don't see the faces or direct areas being affected," Powell said. "We need people who are dedicated and passionate about this issue that are ready to see a change."