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Ending hunger in Maryland

If you haven't experienced hunger yourself, you likely know someone who has. Nationally, one in seven Americans does not always know where their next meal will come from. Here in Maryland, more than 750,000 of our neighbors are food insecure.

There is no one-size-fits-all description of what hunger in our communities looks like.

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One out of every five children in our state is going to school without the nutrition they need to fuel their bodies and their brains. When kids can't concentrate, they can't learn. Studies have shown that children who are food insecure may experience increases in fighting, hyperactivity and bullying.

Nearly 40 percent of the Maryland residents who depend on Maryland Food Bank food assistance programs have incomes above 185 percent of the federal poverty level. That means they don't qualify for any federal or state assistance. These are adults who have jobs — sometimes two or three of them — yet still have difficulty feeding their families.

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In our state, approximately 20 percent of the clients served by the Maryland Food Bank are over the age of 60. As their income becomes fixed in retirement, living costs continue to rise, and seniors are often forced to choose between paying for food and other expenses like utilities or medical care.

What's more, Maryland is the proud home to thousands of active duty service members and veterans, many of whom are using our services. Nearly a quarter of the households who seek aid from our network of food pantries have at least one member who currently or previously served in our nation's military, and last year alone, we held dozens of food distribution events on or near military bases.

A decade ago, working families and military families often donated to organizations like the Maryland Food Bank. Today, many of them are using our services. By many measures, we live in one of the wealthiest states in the nation. So how can hunger be such a prevalent issue?

Perhaps the easiest place to begin is with access to food. Food deserts are areas in urban neighborhoods and rural towns that lack ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead of grocery stores, many communities are limited to fast food restaurants and convenience stores.

A gentleman I met during a Maryland Food Bank emergency distribution event in Baltimore put it into perspective: "We got most of our food from the corner store, and it was the only place that sold fruits and vegetables in this area," he said, "but they charged a dollar for one onion."

It is pretty easy to comprehend this reality: If you do not have a way to get nutritious, affordable food, it will be nearly impossible to maintain a healthy diet.

I believe that access to food is a basic human right and that no one in our state should go to bed without adequate nutrition.

Hunger is a problem for every one of us. A diet low in nutrients can cause chronic health issues, like diabetes and heart disease. Hunger creates a wide range of obstacles for children trying to succeed in school. And, hunger weakens our workforce.

The good news is there is a solution at our disposal. We can feed people. We can make sure that no one in our state lacks the nutrition they need to live up to their full potential.

Every day, the Maryland Food Bank distributes more than 100,000 meals through our statewide network of soup kitchens, pantries and schools.

Last year the Maryland Food Bank distributed more than 47 million meals, but it wasn't enough. And in this gap lies our collective problem. Hunger in our state can be ended, but the effort will require all of us.

A thriving, vibrant Maryland requires that everyone in the state has enough to eat. Our goal is 100 percent food security in every county and city we serve. Nothing short of that will do. We can change the future of our state.

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If we put food first.

Deborah Flateman is president and CEO of the Maryland Food Bank; her email is deborah.flateman@mdfoodbank.org.

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