Fighting the hunger epidemic

Vicki Escarra knows what it's like to be hungry. Escarra, now the chief executive officer of America's Second Harvest, which works with 208 food banks and 150 subsidiaries nationwide to serve 25 million of America's hungry, grew up in urban Atlanta.

"I'm the product of a low-income family," Escarra said. "My father worked for General Motors, and we got by. But when I was 6, my mother got very ill and was hospitalized for over a year. My father had a hard time taking care of two kids, but he was proud, and he didn't tell anyone. There were lots of days and weeks that we had nothing to eat."

Fortunately, Escarra and her family had help. Her church stepped in to help feed her family. "They turned our lives around," she said.

Escarra spent 30 years at Delta Airlines. After Sept. 11 when she started to consider leaving the company, she knew where she wanted to go.

"I felt a calling to give back," Escarra said. "I'm living proof that [Food Bank volunteers] make a big difference."

Escarra was the keynote speaker at the Food Bank of Central New York's 18 annual conference, held at the Holiday Inn on Electronics Parkway in Liverpool on Friday Oct. 6. The event invited volunteers and paid staff from the Food Bank's member programs as well as attendees from Syracuse Housing Authority, Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Onondaga County Department of Aging and Youth.

"We hold the conference each year to bring together people who are working toward ending hunger in our communities," said Stephanie Crowley, development associate for the Food Bank.

The day featured workshops on the use of local foods in hunger relief, Internet ordering for Food Bank clients, nutrition and volunteerism, among other things. It is one of a number of programs the Food Bank is undertaking this month to raise money and awareness to feed Central New York's hungry. During the entire month of October, Price Chopper grocery stores will have coupons for donations of $2, $3 and $5 as part of the Check Out Hunger campaign. The Food Bank will also host a World Food Day teleconference in conjunction with Le Moyne College on Oct. 16. The conference will focus on grassroots movements to end hunger.

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