Category: poverty

Opinion: Nutrition is complicated, but getting rid of food deserts is an essential step toward healthy eating

By Wilton Corkern
Trustee, Corina Higginson Trust

Last Wednesday’s Daily included a link to David Bornstein’s excellent piece from the New York Times entitled “Time to Revisit Food Deserts.” He writes about two recent studies, which concluded that just living close to a grocery store doesn’t guarantee that a person will be healthy and well nourished. In fact, this “revisiting” of the concept of food deserts – defined by USDA as census tracts that contains concentrations of low-income people in which at least a third of the population lives more than a mile from a supermarket or large grocery store – has gotten much play in the past week.

But there is a danger in reading too much into this new data. The fact is, thoughtful people in the food policy discussion never said proximity to a store means poor people can or will eat healthy diets. Bornstein correctly points out that many factors enter into a person’s decision about what to eat. Stores in poor neighborhoods often have produce that is less than desirable. Many people don’t know how to prepare fresh produce – especially items with which they are unfamiliar – or don’t have the time or the kitchen equipment to do so.

And then there’s taste. I have enough money to buy healthy food. I have several good supermarkets and two farmers’ markets within a mile of my house. I have a nice kitchen, tons of cookbooks, and plenty of pots, pans, and gadgets. I know and love the taste of a ripe tomato, fresh off the vine, or fresh Brussels sprouts, cooked with a little garlic. Yet I also crave greasy burgers, salty French fries, and just about every other salty, sweet, and fatty food you can think of. When I read former FDA commissioner David Kessler’s book The End of Overeating a while back, I was pretty sure he’d written about me specifically. He describes a phenomenon he calls “conditioned overeating,” by which many of us are drawn to – even addicted to – “highly palatable” foods, like those we shouldn’t eat.

On top of all that, those fatty, salty, sweet foods that are so bad for us are, on a calorie-for-calorie basis way cheaper than the good stuff.

The D. C. Central Kitchen’s Mike Curtin wrote of this issue in the Huffington Post last week, “Turning our backs on individual parts of a larger solution simply because they do not offer a quick, comprehensive cure is to admit defeat before we even begin.”

Nutrition is a complicated business. But one thing is certain: even if I have the knowledge of good food, the facilities to prepare it, and the means to buy it, without access to it, I wouldn’t have a chance.

Getting rid of food deserts won’t guarantee good nutrition for poor people. But until we do, the people who live in them won’t have a chance, either.

Wilton Corkern is a trustee of the Corina Higginson Trust and a WRAG Board member. He is pleased to be part of a regional group of grantmakers exploring the most strategic role for philanthropy in strengthening our local food system and working toward securing healthy affordable food for all. 

Casey Foundation’s Kids Count 2011 looks at how the recession is affecting child well-being

The Annie E. Casey Foundation has released its 2011 Kids Count Data Book, measuring key indicators of child well-being across the country. The newest edition of the report looks for the first time at how the recession is impacting children and concludes that “low-income children will likely suffer academically, economically and socially long after their parents have recovered.” (WaPo, 8/18)

Perhaps particularly relevant to the recession are indicators about parental unemployment and children affected by foreclosures. Nationally, 11 percent of children are living with at least one unemployed parent. In the Greater Washington region, the numbers are higher in the District (15%), but slightly lower in Maryland (8%) and Virginia (9%).

Since 2007, 4 percent of kids nationwide have been affected by foreclosure. The numbers reflect the national trend in the District (4%), Maryland (4%), Virginia (3%).

More broadly, the report also measures child poverty over the last decade. Nationally, that number has increased from 17 percent in 2000 to 20 percent in 2009. In our region, child poverty has dropped in the District and Maryland, but has increased in Virginia.

Below are profiles for D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with comparative indicators. The Kids Count website has far more detailed data as well.

District of Columbia

Here is the full 2011 KIDS COUNT Data Book.

Defeat Poverty DC launch event: March 24 [News, 3.12.10]

POVERTY | Defeat Poverty DC launch eventMarch 24 – A new DC coalition “putting economic opportunity on the 2010 political agenda” – Panel discussion, moderated by NBC News4 political reporter Tom Sherwood, and release of new report on growing poverty in DC during the recession. Details/RSVP here. Supporters include Community Foundation’s Neighbors in Need Fund and the Moriah Fund.

QUICK QUESTION | “The economy has forced us to work differently, find creative ways to meet community needs.” Funders, does that describe you? Tell us about it! We’re putting together an event and want to paint a complete picture.

GRANTMAKER-IN-CHIEF | Obama Lists Who Will Get Prize Money From Nobel (NYTimes, 3/11) – White House statement

HOMELESSNESS | Former D.C. hospital crowded with homeless families (WaPo, 3/12)

EDUCATION | Opinions: Does the Size of a School Matter? (NYTimes blogs, 3/12)

EVALUATION | Opinion: ‘Social Outcomes’: Missing the Forest for the Trees? (Mario Morino, March 2010)

ENVIRONMENT | MD Considers Bag Tax (WAMU, 3/12)

Have a great weekend!

New report sheds light on an under-used strategy

By Danielle M. Reyes, Program Officer, the Meyer Foundation

As we work to address the needs of District families living in poverty, support for direct services and advocacy efforts related to employment, education, housing, immigration, and health and mental health are often top priorities.  Legal issues do not often make this list, yet the consequences of unaddressed civil legal problems can have a devastating impact on the communities we care about. 


Insufficient legal services leave many low-income individuals and families facing crises including eviction proceedings, domestic violence, bankruptcy, wrongful termination of employment, medical debt, and deportation.  Less than 10 percent of the  legal services needs of DC residents are currently being met.

At a recent funders’ briefing held at the Meyer Foundation, Sunil Mansukhani, the executive director of the Access to Justice Commission, spoke to these complex issues and shared other key findings from the Commission’s newest report, Justice for All? An Examination of the Civil Legal Needs of the District of Columbia’s Low-Income Community. It is the most comprehensive report ever done on the legal needs in the District of Columbia and presents not only challenges, but opportunities.  DC is a city rich with legal expertise, and there is significant and untapped potential in deploying legal services and an opportunity to create a legal services network that can not only address the immediate needs of families, but also reform policies that directly impact low-income communities.

As we explore ways to meet the needs of low-income communities, Justice for All? offers us new information and clear recommendations towards a more comprehensive approach to reducing poverty. 

The open funders’ briefing of the “Justice for All?” report was hosted by the Meyer Foundation, the DC Bar Foundation, and the Access to Justice Commission on Dec. 3.  For more information contact

Changing demographics in Prince George’s County

Brookings data shows what has been known anecdotally for some time — that the County has experienced significant demographic transformation over the last 15 years.  A new report illustrates how migration trends into and out of the County have contributed. Click here to view the report: A Pathway to the Middle Class: Migration and Demographic Change in Prince George’s County

Tuesday, March 20 – In the News…

One-third of adults in D.C. are functionally illiterate… (AP, 3/19)
…and D.C. LEARNs (D.C.’s Literacy Education, Advocacy, and Resource Network) wants to change that. Anyone can help, either with book donations or by becoming an individual or organizational member. The Philip L. Graham Fund [WG member] has funded the organization’s hotline and data collection efforts. The Fannie Mae Foundation [WG member] has supported the Read Out Loud Campaign, as well as research and outreach. D.C. LEARNs is also a part of the Verizon Foundation’s [WG member] nationwide literacy campaign.

Charter School Effort Gets $65 Million Lift (WaPo, 3/20)
Donor money will make the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) the largest charter school organization in the country. KIPP runs three middle schools in the District (AIM Academy, KEY Academy, and WILL Academy). LEAP Academy, an elementary school, is due to open in summer 2007.

Whitman-Walker Clinic to sell 14th St. Properties… (WBJ, 3/16)
…and reassemble under a new single roof.

Event: Reducing Poverty in Washington, DC and Rebuilding the Middle Class From Within: A Community Discussion
Monday, March 26, 2007, 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m., The Brookings Institution, Falk Auditorium, 1775 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC