Central Falls, R.I. – On Thursday, Oct. 4, the Rhode Island Hunger Elimination Task Force released recommendations to help increase access to safe and healthy food for all Rhode Islanders.

“Governor Raimondo is focused on building a food system that supports all Rhode Island families, communities and businesses,” said Sue AnderBois, Rhode Island’ s Director of Food Strategy. “In creating – and now implementing – the State’s first food strategy, we recognized that a thriving food system was not one in which Rhode Islanders went to bed hungry at night. We have been laser-focused on identifying the root causes of food insecurity and partnering with key stakeholders across the state to address them.”

In 2016, almost one out of every eight households – or about 12 percent – in Rhode Island were considered “food insecure” and had limited or uncertain access to safe, healthy foods. Governor Gina M. Raimondo’s Relish Rhody Food Strategy calls for the Task Force to lead efforts in reducing food insecurity levels to below 10 percent in 2020, from 12.8 percent in 2017.

“Governor Raimondo has made food security a priority since the beginning of her Administration because she believes – like I do – that all Rhode Islanders deserve the opportunity to lead healthy, fulfilling lives,” said Executive Office of Health and Human Services Secretary Eric J. Beane. “Access to fresh, nutritious food is something that we cannot take for granted. There are people who still face barriers to this very basic need. We must continue to work together using innovative strategies to help erase those obstacles and increase access for Rhode Islanders.”

The Task Force noted in its recommendations that poverty is a root cause of food insecurity. Recognizing this, the Task Force looked at a range of social determinants in homes and communities that can have sizeable impacts on an individual’s access to food.

“These recommendations from the Rhode Island Huger Elimination Task Force will serve as a roadmap for our coordinated work to ensure that Rhode Islanders in every ZIP code throughout the state have access to safe, local, nutritious food,” said Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health and Task Force co-chair. “Addressing food insecurity means focusing on the various neighborhood level factors, including transportation and economic development, that most significantly affect health outcomes, and amplifying the voice of the community so that everyone is heard in our work to build a healthier Rhode Island.”

Among the recommendations released on Thursday were:

  • Continue using innovative economic development strategies to draw investment into under-served communities
  • Expand food purchasing power
  • Streamline and maximize participation in existing programs
  • Better leverage the State’s transit and transportation programs
  • Maximize use of data through cross-agency partnerships to ensure no Rhode Islander is falling through the cracks
  • Fully support the safety net for Rhode Island’s most vulnerable populations
  • Expand the participation of RIDOH’s Rhode to End Hunger partnership with MEANS, an online system connecting surplus prepared foods to agencies serving Rhode Islanders in need

“The recommendations released today touch on the potential for increasing participation in SNAP, which currently helps nearly 86,000 households statewide. While we look forward to future partnerships, I want to also recognize many of our existing partners – including the Rhode Island Food Bank and the URI SNAP Outreach program – for making food security a priority. We recognize there is a lot more we can do to fulfill our commitment to helping individuals and families, and we cannot be successful without the help of the community.”

Michelle Szylin, acting director of the state Division of Elderly Affairs, said the State has already begun to gain momentum with the many innovative programs that work to address food insecurity for the elderly.

“This past year, the Elderly Affairs’ congregate and home-delivered programs served over 600,000 nutritious meals to Rhode Island’s older adults,” said acting Director Szylin. “We’re expanding seniors’ access to locally-grown produce and nutrition education through our partnership with the Bristol Health Equity Zone. By providing these foods and education to seniors, we hope to prevent or delay the onset of chronic illness and combat the challenges older adults encounter when accessing food.”

Under Governor Raimondo’s leadership, the State published its first statewide food strategy to hone in on how Rhode Island could preserve and grow its agriculture and fisheries industries; enhance the climate for food and beverage businesses; create and sustain markets for Rhode Island’s food and beverage products; ensure food security for all Rhode Islanders; and minimize food waste.

“A healthy, robust food system that supports and embraces local producers such as farmers, gardeners, and fishers has the most potential to sustainably reduce food insecurity in Rhode Island,” said Ken Ayars, Chief of Agriculture of the RI Department of Environmental Management (DEM). “Among its many strengths, the Hunger Elimination Task Force Report recommends keeping our food local, fresh, and adaptable to meet the real-time needs and preferences of consumers. This is a goal that DEM is advancing as we promote and expand Rhode Island’s food, agricultural, and commercial fishing industries.”

The event was held in partnership with Food on the Move, a RI Public Health Institute program created to improve community access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Attendees were invited to shop at the Food on the Move weekly market at Forand Manor.

“The recommendations of the Hunger Elimination Task Force are an important step in reducing food insecurity and hunger in RI,” said RIPHI Executive Director Dr. Amy Nunn. “These recommendations prioritize strategies to make healthy food more affordable, such as our Food on the Move market, which reaches 5,000 Rhode Islanders who struggle to put healthy food on the table. We pride ourselves in developing programs to ensure all Rhode Islanders have access to healthy, affordable food.”

Central Falls Mayor James Diossa thanked the Task Force for spotlighting the city’s partnership with the State.

“Eliminating hunger is critical to the success of Central Falls and the state as whole,” Mayor Diossa said. “I commend Governor Raimondo for addressing this important topic head on and am happy to welcome the Task Force to our city.”

 

About the Hunger Elimination Task Force

As part of the State’s food strategy, Relish Rhody, the Inter-Agency Food and Nutrition Policy Council convened the Hunger Elimination Task Force in October 2017. The Task Force is composed of leaders from across state and municipal government, the food and beverage industry, nonprofits, and local communities.