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Groups to map where city is hungry

All major providers of emergency food in Syracuse have begun collaborating on the Syracuse Hunger Project, an effort to produce maps to identify city neighborhoods with the greatest needs and their geographic relationship to pantries and feeding centers that address those needs. The intent is to make Syracuse free of hungry people by 2006 by providing the most clear overall picture ever of hunger in the city and by organizing emergency food providers better.

“Everybody knows what’s going on at their own street corner, but nobody knows what’s going on at altitude,” said Dale B. Johnson, executive director of the Samaritan Center, which is coordinating and paying for the project. The Samaritan Center is using $25,000 of a bequest from the Fred Harder estate to pay for the study. Most of the money will go to hire Tim Glisson, who has been active with nonprofits and in government and politics, as a project coordinator.

Johnson said data will be collected from the Food Bank of Central New York, pantries, soup kitchens, the Syracuse school district’s reduced-cost and free lunch program, Meals on Wheels of Syracuse, the city’s Community Development office and Onondaga County’s Social Services Department and Office of Youth and Aging. That data will be considered with Census information and federal food stamp program numbers and plotted on city maps by students and faculty in the geography department of Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

Those maps may show areas of need specific to children, families and senior citizens. “There’s a lot of resources out there that have never been assembled this way to approach this kind of problem,” Johnson said. Johnson said the project is fortunate to have an enthusiastic commitment from professor Don Mitchell, chair of Maxwell’s geography department.

The study will be part of the People’s Geography Project, an exploration of how geography affects such social justice issues as hunger, racism, sexism and the misuse of power. The discipline is seen as “the inequality of the geography of power.” It helps to explain “how some people win, how some people lose,” Mitchell said. SU geography professor Jane M. Read, who specializes in geography information systems, will direct a graduate student and her spring semester undergraduate geography information systems class in correlating the data and plotting it on maps. The maps are expected by April 2004.

Similar maps dealing with environmental issues have been produced in the past, but Mitchell said this will be the first time such a process has been used by his department to explore hunger issues. Second Harvest, the national organization for local food banks, already conducts a hunger survey with local reports every five years, said Tom Slater, executive director of the Food Bank of Central New York.

News By Frank Brieaddy