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Community Partners Address Food Access during Food Security Summit

Photo submitted by the U of I Extension

MARION – For the second year in a row, community partners came together to address food access during the Southern Illinois Food Security Summit. The event allowed agencies to collaborate, learn, and prioritize healthy food access initiatives for southern Illinoisans.

Stephen Ericson, Executive Director for Feeding Illinois, served as the keynote speaker. He shared nutrition security efforts to increase healthy, fresh, local produce in our food banks and food pantries through the Farmer to Food Bank initiative. The rest of the summit was filled with short-dynamic lightning talks highlighting the SNAP-EBT and Link Match programs at farmers’ markets, food insecurity screening and referral efforts, and taking a trauma-informed approach to address food security.

Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton sent a pre-recorded message to attendees commending the group on feeding, growing, and supporting Illinois. Stratton noted that equitable food access is key to healthy, whole, and happy communities. She discussed how her office is focused on this work through their agricultural equity and food insecurity initiative: Ag Connects Us All.

“Nourishing communities is more than just getting food to the table. It’s about fostering the connections that ensure every community throughout Illinois can eat and be well. It’s about recognizing that everyone deserves access to fresh, nutrient-dense food that is culturally relevant,” said Stratton.

Hunger is often hidden, but it is a huge issue in southern Illinois. According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap, more than 45,000 southern Illinoisans struggle with having enough food to eat. That’s nearly 15% of local residents. SNAP-Ed Extension Educator Toni Kay Wright, one of the event organizers, said that addressing food insecurity is a team effort. Wright was excited to see the numerous organizations and agencies come together with one goal. 

“The people here recognize that we have an issue with food access and food insecurity in our communities, and I’m hoping that people leave here re-energized and re-invigorated to support food access projects,” said Wright.

Organizers plan to bring the summit back to Marion next September for a third annual event. To learn how to get involved with food security initiatives in the region, contact Toni Kay Wright at tkwright@illinois.edu or (618) 993-3304.