As an AmeriCorps VISTA serving with Trinity Cafe and a Ph.D. graduate of the University of South Florida’s Department of Anthropology, I was especially delighted to hear about some of the important research that my former colleagues and professors have been conducting that sheds light on hunger issues in Tampa Bay.

I recently had the opportunity to share a conversation with the Dr. David Himmelgreen about the new research partnership with Feeding Tampa Bay, called the Hunger Action Alliance. Faculty and graduate students from the Department of Anthropology have teamed up to conduct a number of intriguing studies that assess various issues surrounding hunger throughout the Tampa Bay area.

With the support of The Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, Florida Hospital, Johns Hopkins all Children’s Hospital, Humana, Mosaic, and Bank of America, researchers have been able to reach a wide variety of people who are food insecure. Originally, Thomas Mantz of Feeding Tampa Bay contacted David Himmelgreen after reading a letter he’d written about child food insecurity and the potential lifelong consequences on both physical and mental health. For David, research on hunger involves more than filling the food gap through food assistance programs. In order to address hunger at its root, researchers have recognized that food insecurity involves structural issues like education, access to healthcare, transportation, etc. For example, a recent study on hunger among teens and the effects on the growing body, they found that young women who were food insecure entered puberty approximately a year earlier than others, which may contribute to higher potential rates of obesity and even breast cancer later in life.

With a growing number of food insecure working people, Feeding Tampa Bay and the University of South Florida partnered in 2016 to begin to identify and address these structural issues. Since then, and a bit before, nine different evaluations have been completed. This includes one study that looked at important factors impacting hunger among older adults, such as social isolation, loneliness, and food insecurity. Another study assessed what kinds of foods were most utilized after food donations made it into the pantries of individuals and families. Other studies included the Farm to Fork program focused on the use of fresh ingredients among the food insecure, and an assessment of WellCare’s mobile food pantries.

David Himmelgreen explained that the three pillars of the Hunger Action Alliance include research, education, and transformation, detailed below:

1 Gaining an understanding of the effects of food insecurity and hunger in the community beyond just health (poor grades among school children, lacking energy throughout the work day, etc).

2 Engaging all members of the community to recognize the magnitude of food insecurity locally.

3 Putting research into action to make an impact on the lives of those in need. This includes sharing findings and having discussions about the challenges that certain programs have and identifying best practices.

The third pillar is especially important since applying research is the focus of the Department of Anthropology at the University of South Florida. Something that emerged out of a study that looked at how food donations given to the children in backpacks at their schools was used, included an agency report to identify how the program could be improved. This backpack giveaway supplemented children’s meals and was intended for kids who were part of an after-school program. One key finding was that the food was shared among the family, filling a food gap for more than just the children during the weekends. The anthropologists developed a forum for best practices moving forward and those involved with the backpack giveaways can improve the effectiveness of their program moving forward.

While Trinity Cafe supplements food gaps for those who dine with us, we also offer a dignified environment where those in need can socialize, make useful contacts, learn about resources, and have their spirits lifted if desired. We look forward to your contributions and volunteer efforts and hope that your continued support will help us make a broad impact on the lives of our food insecure neighbors.

Chad Radwan, Communication VISTA, Trinity Cafe