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Fighting the hunger epidemic

Indeed, hunger statistics in the Central New York area are staggering. Forty-one percent of the hungry are children, and 8 percent are seniors. More than half have a family member who works, but more than half also earn less than $10,000 a year for the entire household. And it's not just the uneducated poor -- 62 percent of hungry adults have a high school or college education.

In the hopes of addressing the needs of those people, the Food Bank of CNY has nearly 580 member programs, including food pantries, soup kitchens, rehab centers, group homes and senior centers. The Food Bank distributes 10 million pounds of food every year.

Escarra noted that the programs the Food Bank runs in Central New York are extremely successful.

"They're best in class," she said. "For your food stamp program, you cut down your applications from 15 pages to just three. At the same places where they get food, people can sign up for heat and transportation programs and job training. Here in New York, you're trying to build the infrastructure to help lower-income families."

Escarra said that America's Second Harvest is trying to implement some of New York's programs in other states.

Ultimately, the goal of the Food Bank and of America's Second Harvest is to put themselves out of business by bringing an end to hunger in our community and our nation. Their programs have evolved over the last 20 years to focus on nutrition, identification of those in need and help in areas like paying for heat and job training.

"To end hunger, we need the whole community to work together," Slater said.

He pointed out that it is up to the younger generation to take on the fight.

"There are several questions the next generation needs to answer," he said. "How can we use technology better? How can we better identify people in need and marry them to the programs to which they're entitled?"

Slater is confident that today's 20- to 35-year-olds are up to the challenge.

"The younger generation is a whole lot smarter than we are," he said. "If we can get their attention, they can do a better job. It's in their hands."

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