County poverty, hunger addressed

By James Green

Solutions and growing awareness for local homelessness and hunger were discussed Tuesday at the Campus Life Building.

Dan Kenney, DeKalb County Community Gardens director, and Lesly Wicks, Hope Haven homeless shelter director, gave a presentation as a part of NIU’s Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.

Kenney said about 13,920 DeKalb residents — 4,600 of those children — do not have a secure, reliable way to feed themselves from week to week. Of that number, he said nearly 6,000 don’t earn enough to afford adequate nutrition, but they make just enough to keep them from being eligible for public benefits.

“Poverty and hunger aren’t obvious in DeKalb,” Kenney said. “They’re an everyday issue.”

To solve DeKalb’s hunger problems, DeKalb County Community Gardens volunteers have planted food gardens throughout the area at 40 sites. This year, Kenney said, DeKalb County Community Gardens has grown 14,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables for food pantries. Kenney said there are hopes to create a regional food hub where produce can be grown, processed and distributed in surrounding areas, making a local food security system.

Hunger is naturally connected to poverty, which, Wicks said, has been on the rise since 2007. Poverty rates in Illinois rose from 11.9 percent to 15 percent between 2007 and 2011, and 40 percent of homeless people are poverty stricken families, Wicks said. Hope Haven plans on introducing a new rapid rehousing initiative, which will give families financial assistance for a month until they can get back on their feet.

Wicks and Kenney both hope that after the presentation attendees will be more aware of the social issues in the area and will be inspired to help their communities. Both DeKalb County Community Gardens and Hope Haven welcome volunteers.

“People, like students, come here and don’t really see DeKalb as a ‘hub for poverty.’ Homelessness is kind of invisible in rural communities compared to, say, Chicago,” Wicks said.

Wicks believes teaching students social responsibility is important because not everyone, especially those in need, have opportunities for higher education.

Graduate nutrition student Rachel McBride, who attended the Tuesday event, agreed, saying seeing projects that help others in the community has inspired her as a student to do something meaningful with her career.

“I think it would be interesting to see, as a nutrition student and member of CAUSE social entrepreneurship club, how we can use student resources to make a change in communities,” McBride said.