Compassion in action

Compassion in action

We are in the midst of what seems like an endless cycle of bad news. There are wars overseas, political battles in the U.S., lingering negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic – and our planet is warming at a frightening rate.

Sometimes really good news can get lost in the din.

So we want to spotlight a significant announcement by the city last week: The Alexandria Department of Community and Human Services released a report about food insecurity in our city that was encouraging in both fact and tone.

The report said that 8% of Alexandrians are experiencing food insecurity, which means that 92% of city residents have enough to eat. The report also said that 9% of city residents live below the federal poverty line, which means 91% are above it.

To be clear, we are not minimizing those who lack enough to eat in Alexandria, and neither did the report.

Using the city website’s official current population number of 157,613, an 8% food insecurity rate means that 12,609 Alexandria residents currently lack enough food. We need to continue striving to make that number zero.

The DCHS report highlighted four groups that are particularly vulnerable: the homeless, senior citizens, immigrants/non-English speakers and Latinos.

However, Alexandria’s level of food insecurity is better than Virginia’s 9.3% rate, according to an Axios report based on new government data, and significantly better than the national rate, which according to U.S. Census data is 12.8%. The city’s 9% poverty rate is also lower than those of Virginia, which is 10.6%, and the U.S. as a whole, which is 11.5%, according to U.S. Census data.

Just as important as the numbers is the DCHS report’s overarching message: that efforts by the city, nonprofits and houses of worship are effectively helping many struggling families and individuals attain food security. The biggest challenge is to reach those who, despite the best efforts of well-meaning city and private organizations, are not receiving needed help.

One significant prong in this city-wide effort to help with food insecurity is making sure students have access to healthy food while at school. Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt, Ed.D., discusses the school district’s emphasis on helping students establish sustainable healthy eating patterns in her column on the facing page.

For students who come from households struggling with food insecurity, the meals they receive at school are essential to not just learning, but their overall health. The ACPS healthy eating initiative is being implemented in fun ways, such as taste testings, that help students to try foods they might otherwise shy from eating.

The city and nonprofit organizations impressively teamed up to provide testing and vaccines to underserved populations in Alexandria during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have confidence that they will continue creatively partnering to feed those in our city who most need it.

In the midst of on-going strife all around us, this progress by those working to improve food security in Alexandria provides an example of compassion in action.