Running to feed the hungry

To feed the hungry, we need to enroll more people in food-stamp programs

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Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno. His column, Greenlight, appears weekly in this space.

I like being timed. So when asked by the friendly computer at REI if I wanted to pay a little extra to be timed at the 19th annual Run to Feed the Hungry, I said, “Sure.” Or to be more accurate, I checked the “yes” box. I figured it was a way to give a little more money to the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

It is not like I needed the race officials to time me. I wear a stopwatch, and I knew I would use it. At the start of the race, I dutifully lined up with those expecting to run at an eight-to-nine-minute pace. While running the 10k race, I noted each of my mile times. For reasons I cannot explain, I care how my time compares to other males in my age group (60 to 64). And I care how my 61-year-old time compares to my previous times. In case you are wondering, I am slower than my younger self. At this point in my life, I am also trying to outrun the Grim Reaper. I expect that bastard rarely does better than a 12-minute pace.

After the race, I collected my free bottle of water and Cliff Bar and walked back to my car to start driving home. Having neglected to review my race packet, I did not know which route to take. So for the next 20 minutes or so, I drove around looking for a path through the thousands of walkers and runners.

More than 27,000 people: old people, young people, school groups and corporate groups, most of whom did not care what their running time was. But we all cared enough about ending hunger that we were willing to spend our time and money to help. And we did, raising almost $1 million.

Sitting in my car, watching a steady stream of neighbors pass by, made me very proud of our town. But it also made me sad to think about just how much hunger we have in our region.

Our food banks are being slammed. As the head of the Sacramento Food Bank, Blake Young, will tell you, we must dramatically increase food-stamp participation in our region. There are almost 150,000 people in our five-county region who qualify for food stamps, now called CalFresh, but do not receive them. We stupidly turn away more than $200 million in federal funds each year because of our weak participation in CalFresh.

If we simplified and improved food-stamp procedures in our five-county region, and if nonprofits and faith groups assisted with outreach campaigns, we could dramatically reduce hunger in our region. And if 27,000 of us can walk and run to reduce hunger, I think we have the will to change this. It’s time.