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Cougars and Mustangs 

Having the reputation as the “Happiest Place in America” may somewhat obscure the reality that our nation’s economic outlook is pretty bleak. And while the golden hills surrounding SLO may appear to mirror the riches in which many may bask, the truth is that there are still those among us who can barely provide for their most basic of needs.

Founded with the mission to improve the community’s overall health status, Cal Poly’s STRIDE (Science through Translational Research in Diet and Exercise) is currently working in partnership with the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County to document people who can’t find enough to eat.

Taking part in a nationwide study funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cal Poly students representing more than 11 degree programs are interviewing more than 600 low-income residents around San Luis Obispo County to find the true scope of food deprivation. Data gathered in the interviews will be compiled together with numbers collected in a food availability survey performed in spring. The thinking is that with a careful analysis through surveys and interviews, a more accurate count can be made of people in need. This data can thus be transferred into a greater number of resources for the county.

Cal Poly kinesiology professor Ann McDermott, director of the university’s STRIDE center, explained on the Cal Poly website that the project will be instrumental not only in the fight to alleviate hunger, but also as a teaching tool for everyone involved.

 “This is a perfect example of what STRIDE is all about: bringing Cal Poly’s expertise and Learn by Doing mission into partnerships with the local community to promote health,” she said.

Thus far, the study has revealed that people having the most difficulty finding access to food are single-parent families, non-English speakers, veterans, senior citizens, and people who are disabled, homeless, unemployed, and underemployed. In the case of the elderly, the study found that some are forced to literally choose between eating and buying their prescription meds.

The food availability study also involved students surveying grocery stores. From corner shops to chain supermarkets, the students compared the availability, cost, and quality of 97 food staples throughout the county. The data will be entered into a database—which was created by Cal Poly engineering students—and will be used to create a “hunger map” of food availability in the county’s different regions, including price differences and “food desert” zones.

With funding through the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, the USDA awarded grants to organizations around the nation to help communities improve access to nutritious foods. The research will be used to create a countywide plan to combat hunger.

Intern Jason Keedy compiled this week’s Cougars and Mustangs. Send comments or items for consideration to cougarsandmustangs@newtimesslo.com.

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