Front Row Center Newsletter from the Greater Columbus Arts Counsil

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By Jennifer Sadler

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Arts Council staff, left to right: Tom Katzenmeyer, Jami Goldstein, Deanna Poelsma and Sue Jones.

“I wanted our staff to do something outside of the arts to celebrate the holiday season; to give something back to the community in a different way,” said Tom Katzenmeyer, president of the Greater Columbus Arts Council of the staff’s recent volunteer experience at the Mid-Ohio Foodbank (MOF).  Instead of an annual holiday party, the Arts Council staff chose to spend a morning donating their time and a little elbow grease to help sort and package food to be delivered to those in need.  It was a unique and inspiring experience, and an opportunity to step outside of a daily immersion in the local arts to see what social service organizations are doing for the central Ohio area.  And little did we know, we’d find that MOF has been utilizing the power of the arts to further their mission to raise awareness about hunger.

Many people don’t realize the staggering impact food insecurity has in our area.  Thousands of people in central and eastern Ohio are facing hunger every day. Many are faced with difficult situations, having to choose between paying for housing, utilities or medical expenses and putting food on the table.

Knowing the facts—and the faces—behind hunger is crucial and understanding it better will help in finding solutions.  More than 248,000 individuals, including 86,975 children and 17,395 seniors receive emergency food each year through MOF within a 20-county service area.  These numbers represent a 28 percent increase since the findings reported in Hunger in America 2006.  In any given week, more than 40,000 people receive emergency food assistance from a food pantry, soup kitchen, or emergency shelter served by MOF.

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Arts Council staff and Board members volunteering at the Mid-Ohio Foodbank facility.

MOF provides food to hundreds of thousands of our hungry neighbors each year by partnering with more than 550 emergency feeding sites across central and eastern Ohio. Since 1980, MOF has joined food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, senior centers, and after-school programs to make food accessible to those in our communities who are hungry. In 2013, MOF distributed 48.6 million pounds of food enabling its partner charities to provide more than 107,000 meals every day.  This incredible growth in distribution—compared to 18.7 million pounds in 1999—indicates the dire need to raise awareness and find even more resources for acquiring, storing and distributing food.  In 2009, the MOF moved to a new facility—one big enough to hold nearly four football fields—to accommodate the demand.

MOF is a member of Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief charity. For every $1 given to MOF by donors, they are able to distribute $11 worth of groceries to people in need. And for every partnership they have with a grocer, food company or farmer, they are able to find a valuable purpose for foods that otherwise may have gone to waste.

In 2012, MOF distributed nearly 16.1 million pounds of fresh produce to families through several initiatives.  To continue to increase the effort in the amount of fresh produce it acquires and distributes, MOF launched the Harvest Campaign. The campaign set a goal of raising $1 million toward distributing another 5 or 6 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables, with 100 percent of the money going toward the effort.  Through the campaign, MOF’s goal is to acquire produce shipped directly from farmers’ fields. Funds will also ensure that they have sufficient equipment to keep food, such as coolers—and educate visitors on what to do with the fresh items once they get home. This food will help those in need to live healthier and be in a better position to overcome the challenges of food insecurity by stocking MOF’s Produce Markets, Mobile Markets and more.

MOF also operates an on-site Community Garden. The garden offers a learning experience for both community volunteers and families in need. Hands-on opportunities allow people to learn about how to grow food, eat healthier and manage their food budgets. With around 1,400-square feet of growing space, the garden has contributed over 6,000 pounds of produce for the emergency food system. The garden also features a rain catchment system, greenhouse and composting barrels. It sits just outside of MOF’s Kroger Community Pantry.

In MOF’s efforts to raise awareness and funds to fight hunger, they have called upon representatives from a cross-section of local organizations to provide guidance for the community-wide campaigns and projects such as Operation Feed and to reach out to companies, associations, networking groups, religious organizations, government agencies and educational institutions to facilitate growth of their programs into new arenas.

MOF has also been working to connect to the community through the arts.  In early December 2013 MOF presented a week dedicated to the arts, celebrated by two special events—Hunger Art Action, a student project depicting hunger, and a contemporary African sculpture exhibition.

Hunger Art Action, which kicked off during September’s Hunger Action Month, was born out of partnership between MOF and educators through Growing Together Service Learning Network and Partnerships Make A Difference to facilitate a service learning project on hunger. Students were asked to research and submit visual art projects that express their perceptions of hunger. The artwork was showcased at the Foodbank for the month of December.

In closing the two-month-lonkufunda_sculptureg Hunger Art Action project, student participants from area schools were recognized by MOF president & CEO Matt Habash and Growing Together Service Learning Network field coordinator Karen Patterson at an Open House Art Showcase at the Foodbank in December.

According to Partnerships Make a Difference program director Kathy Meyer, Art Action provided the opportunity for the students to do “the work of real people” using skills and knowledge to inspire while increasing their own awareness of hunger issues in the community. “This is truly citizenship in action,” said Meyer.

In cooperation with artist Chipo Musandi and others from Zimbabwe, MOF welcomed Spirits in Stone, a collection of contemporary African art at the Foodbank in December.  The collection shows a variety of handcrafted modern and exotic stone sculptures—crafted, amazingly, with primitive tools such as hammers and chisels, made in the tradition of many generations. Artwork is still on display at the Foodbank and sales of the sculptures benefit in part Kufunda Village in Zimbabwe, a sustainable village trying to create ways to continue to provide for themselves, to work and support each other.  MOF has a long standing partnership with Kufunda Village in Zimbabwe through its kufunda_sculpturesinvolvement in Authentic Leadership In Action.

“Kufunda is a very special village, providing for so many people,” said Musandi.  The Village offers a safe haven for children who have lost their parents to AIDS.  According to Musandi, they are brought to Kufunda where they are cared for and educated.  It is also a place for battered women who have nowhere to go because they’ve never worked or lack the education to move forward.  The programs at Kufunda include community gardens where villagers learn to make a living by growing and marketing produce.

“Kufunda is basically a home for anybody who feels they have difficulties in life.  Kufunda has its doors open for everybody,” said Musandi.

“Through art we are able to develop conversations and raise awareness around hunger,” said MOF president and CEO, Matt Habash, “ both the student art and stone sculptures demonstrate the resiliency of our neighbors who, just like many in Kufunda Village face hunger every day.”

The Ukulele Cowboy Society blends old jazz standards with the unique sound of the ukulele.