TEDX speaker holds lecture on community hunger insecurity


The Beacon / Megan Stanley

TEDX speaker Clancy Harrison spoke on food insecurity, especially relating to college students. Harrison was brought to campus by Kristin Osipower, campus interfaith coordinator, who also runs the Colonel Closet, a food pantry for students of the university.

Wilkes University hosted Clancy Harrison, a TEDX speaker, author, and food justice advocate, to speak to students, staff and the community about food insecurity on March 15.

In a lecture titled “Hunger: an invisible epidemic,” Harrison discussed her personal work as the previous president of the West Side Food Pantry in Kingston and discussed the hunger and food insecurity issues facing the USA.

The Campus Interfaith Coordinator, Kristin Osipower introduced the event.

“Food insecurity is a national epidemic,.” Osipower said. “No corner of our society is left untouched – including college students.”

Food insecurity, Osipower continued, can be “‘a significant barrier for success”’ for college students who may not have the funds to buy nutritious food with many choosing to live off ramen noodles and instant meals.

“Wilkes has taken a very proactive approach in addressing the issue by providing different sources of education and resources for the students,” Osipower said.

The Colonel Closet, which opened in 2016 for Wilkes University students, providing food for students who need it, but Osipower acknowledged that there needs to be more on campus to reduce stigma.

Osipower placed Harrison on the “cutting edge of advocacy” for her work in the local area to reduce stigma.

“She has transformed the lives of thousands of people by improving access to nuritioning food in her work with healthcare professionals, non-profit organizations, and universities,.” Osipower said.

Harrison began her talk discussing the work the West Side Pantry does. They serve 70 families a week by providing them with four days worth of food. The also hold pop-up fresh produce stands bi-weekly. The same stand was in UCOM during HarrisonClancy’s talk.

Before her work at the Pantry, HarrisonClancy admitted: “I had a lot of misconceptions I wasn’t even aware of. But when I started working everything changed.”

“I realized the misconceptions I had were completely wrong,” Harrison continued: “There’s a misconception that people are lazy, that they are using the system. I learned that people often have multiple jobs, they are often patching enough jobs where they are working 1.7 jobs. Most of the children on food stamps have at least one working parent.”

Harrison also acknowledged the belief that many who use food services also misuse drugs and alcohol.

“In my seven years now of being at the food pantry, I’ve only encountered one person who smelt like alcohol.” Harrison explained that the person in question had anxiety going into public and had consumed alcohol to give them the courage to go to the food pantry.

“If you look at the research [drug and alcohol abuse is] actually more prevalent among people with money, however it is more visible in poorer neighbourhoods.” Harrison stated.

Harrison is also a consultant for the Women With Children (WWC) at Misericordia University, which is a program that provides single mothers with the opportunity to complete a college degree. It is one of eight programs in the United States that offers such opportunities to single mothers.

“We have sixteen mom’s and nineteen children now, we just received our third home,” Harrison said.

She also discussed her cooperation with prisons that provide some of the produce use in the food pantry: “It was the best experience of my life. I get beautiful produce from them. The men are so proud it’s like a sense of freedom for them inside of a prison.”

Food insecurity, Harrison explained, is when people have limited availability to nutritious and safe food whereas hunger is when an individual experiences a painful and uneasy sensation because of a lack of food.

Another aspect of food insecurity, Harrison said explained is eating the wrong types of food despite having access to good food. For instance eating instant meals, pre-prepared pancake mix, and ramen noodles.

“This is what you see in colleges, this is what you see in the working poor. They are full, but they are starving on the inside because they are malnourished.” Harrison explained.

In the US, 41.2 million people are experiencing food insecurity, with 12.9 million children falling into the food insecure bracket.

“Since I’ve been speaking about food insecurity, the rates have gone down, but there’s a bigger gap in people who need more food. So the people who need food, need more and more food than before,.” Harrison said.

In the Wilkes Barre area, 28.9% of the population lives below the poverty line, with females aged 25 – 35 and 18 – 24, and males 18 – 24, being the largest demographics facing poverty.

Harrison told the audience that this means the college population of Wilkes Barre makes up the highest demographic of poverty.

Harrison also discussed the stigma surrounding utilizing food assistant programs. Out of households that are classed as insecure, only 59% of insecure households participated in one of the three3 major federal initiatives such as SNAP, school meals, and WIC.

“What’s going on in the other 41%, why aren’t they participating?” Harrison asked.

“Stigma is a big issue,” Harrison said as a reason for many people not choosing to seek help for food struggle.

Harrison told the story of Jake, a local child in the area who has spina bifida. His mother had to choose between buying baby formula which cost $1,200 a month and food, leading her to receive food stamps and shop at night to avoid shame.

“Stigma causes food assistance paralysis,.” Harrison told the audience.

Harrison also provided other reasons why people might not be able to get help for food issues. She explained that many can’t go because of conflicting working hours, no transport, and lack of knowledge about services.

Towards the conclusion of the talk, Harrison was keen to encourage others to act to help those in need.

Harrison told the audience: “Look in your own organization, where you work, find the crack and be the glue. We have a lot of our reach within universities, but what about the inreach? Civil leadership can happen anywhere at anytime by any person.”