Film spotlights U.S. struggle with hunger

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A Place at the Table

Flathead Valley leaders who help feed the hungry hope a local showing of “A Place at the Table” will be the springboard for more community advocacy in fighting hunger.

The acclaimed documentary starring Jeff Bridges tells powerful stories of Americans striving to maintain their dignity even as they struggle to eat.

Directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush examine the issue of hunger in America through the lens of three people: Barbie, a single Philadelphia mother who grew up in poverty and is working to provide a better life for her two children; Rosie, a Colorado fifth-grader who often depends on friends and neighbors for food and has trouble concentrating in school; and Tremonica, a Mississippi second-grader whose asthma and health issues are made worse by the poor quality of food her hardworking mother can afford.

The film points out that 50 million people in the United States, including one in four children, don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

“It’s a tough film to see because it lays out the situation,” BJ Carlson said.

Carlson works with the Bread for the World group at Northridge Lutheran Church in Kalispell. The documentary was shown at the church, and the consensus was that the film’s message needs to be shared with the Flathead community, she said.

“We hope there will be a group interested in addressing the local situation,” Carlson said. “We need to look at more permanent long-term solutions. Throwing more food at food banks alone won’t do it.”

Robin Stephenson, senior regional organizer for Bread for the World, will participate in the panel discussion. Other presenters include Jessica Manly of Food Corps, Lori Botkin of Flathead Food Bank and Chris Krager of Samaritan House. Pastor Dan Heskett of Northridge Lutheran will emcee the event.

Stephenson said the film is a wake-up call for the audience, but more importantly invites viewers to make a difference.

“You can build a fence at the top of the cliff or you can drive an ambulance at the bottom,” she said, explaining how the film looks at the long- and short-term effects of the nation’s food policies and feeding programs.

The documentary points out it’s not a shortage of food that’s the core problem in America; it’s poverty that drives people to spend what money or food stamps they have on the cheapest calories, namely unhealthy over-processed food.

“Charity is not the way to end hunger,” Bridges notes in the film. Hunger is “a problem people are ashamed of acknowledging and the problem is getting worse.

“It’s about patriotism, really,” Bridges continued. “If another country was doing this to our kids, we would be at war.”

Bridges is the founder of the End Hunger Network.

There are local leaders who already are making a difference in the war against hunger, Carlson pointed out. Jenny Montague, Kalispell Public Schools Food Services director, recently received statewide recognition for her efforts to reduce hunger, improve nutrition and serve up Montana-sourced foods and products.

Ronda Stevens, the homeless education liaison for Kalispell Public Schools, is another local leader in the trenches working to effect change, Carlson said.

“I think there’s a a lot of power in getting a group [of these leaders] together,” she added.

Sponsors of the film showing and discussion include United Way, Samaritan House, Northridge Lutheran Church, Nourish the Flathead (Farm Hands), Food Corps, the Kalispell branch of American Association of University Women, Flathead Food Bank and Bread for the World.

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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