Are We There Yet? Blog

Running On Empty

February 27, 2015
Running on Empty

Ieisha Gutierrez knows her two young children fight their hunger daily. It’s a battle with which she is familiar; she’s struggled with food insecurity for most of her twenty-three years. And when she has free time, after spending long hours working, after picking up her kids from school, plowing through their homework, getting them showered and off to bed to rest for another day hardly varying in its monotony, getting exercise isn’t a top priority.

Running is tough enough. Running when your stomach is empty is nearly impossible.

She would like to take them to the park on weekends so they can run around and play. She would like to forget the years where she could not provide them with food necessities, when depression was a constant companion in her life because she was overwhelmed by the knowledge that, as a single mother, her “little ones love to eat and they don’t get enough.”

I asked my own children, both of whom are busy in school, both of whom run recreationally for exercise, why do you run?

food insecurity

People run for all sorts of reasons. They run for their team. They run to relieve stress. They run so they can eat. But it’s hard to run at all when you’re dealing with chronic hunger. Photo credit: Hilary Swift.

Isabelle told me she runs approximately 5-7 miles a day “because problems don’t have legs.” Harrison is training for a marathon, and in spite of the miles he logs in preparation, waxed poetic about running.

“There’s a quote from The Oatmeal on running,” he texted.

I read somewhere how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong  . . . but to feel strong.” 

Christopher McCandless from Jon Krakaver’s, Into the Wild. (2007)

“But the whole thing is awkward because running makes you hungry,” Harrison pointed out.

Which is why Weld Food Bank is putting on Greeley Can End Hunger 5K/2K Walk or Race on Saturday, March 7th. The brainchild of Matthew Villarreal, Greeley Central High School senior, the walk or run is geared toward helping those in poverty who cannot feed their families. Food insecurity is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as “a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.” Hunger is not what those of us think of when we’re craving a pizza or debating whether we exercised enough to have earned a chocolate milkshake. True hunger, because of an involuntary ability to access food, is when the human body has “discomfort, illness, weakness, or pain that goes beyond the usual uneasy sensation.” Poverty creates hunger, which has spiraling downward effects on health and wellness.

food insecurity

Seniors with food insecurity consume fewer calories and key nutrients, such as iron and protein. They have an increased risk of developing nine diseases and other negative health conditions, including asthma and heart problems.

Weld County’s population of 269,785 has 35,000 people with food insecurity, and 16,000 of those are children.

Weld Food Bank’s mission is “to lead and engage the community in the fight against hunger.” Food insecurity exists wherever there is poverty, defined by the Federal government as $24,500 for a family of four. In Weld County, it costs $45,000 for a family of four to live without assistance, so the discrepancy between the Federal Poverty Level and actuality is huge. Many who find themselves in this situation make minimum wage, $8.23 an hour, or $17,118 a year, making it difficult to meet even the baseline criteria for poverty. Populations living in poverty aren’t limited to the young: there are seniors, the disabled, the mentally ill, and those who have not earned a high school diploma. Less affordable housing plays a part in the problem, with an annual income of $58,000 needed in Greeley to be able to afford an average two-bedroom apartment. And rents continue to increase due to housing scarcity. In fact, rents have doubled over the last two years.

food insecurity

When living in poverty, often the choice comes down to buying food. . . or not.

It is not that Ieisha wasn’t trying. She qualified for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). According to Cheri Witt-Brown, Community Engagement Manager at Weld Food Bank, “One of the four main purposes of TANF is to ‘[e]nd the dependence of needy parents on governmental benefits. . ..’ It can help individuals become self sufficient by providing participants the ability to acquire critical job skills through placements with employers.” Ieisha, as a single mom who didn’t have other resources outside of her immediate family, who had difficulty finding a job with two young children — as well as childcare for them — was ecstatic to get a job through TANF, even though it meant she would earn only $462 a month.

So how do you feed yourself, and two kids ages 5 and 3, on that amount? Breakfast consisted of bananas, oatmeal or toast. Toast is very popular with her kids, she told me. Lunch was at school, and for dinner she fed them Hamburger Helper, frozen pizzas, or she made sandwiches. Married now for a year, her husband’s mom was able to provide them with fruits and vegetables through the Weld Food Bank’s Commodities program, supplementing their diet with cereal, peanut butter, dried beans, pop, and cookies. That program runs off of donated food items, and no WFB food dollars are used to fund it. Ieisha started a new job this week with regular hours, and she hopes their diet will change for the better, that she won’t see hunger outlined on her babies’ faces.

In an ironic twist, Ieisha did get exercise, because up until the last year, she had no car. She walked everywhere, in any weather, and took her children along. It wasn’t bad in the summers, but winter’s cold fed her depression, and made her children more susceptible to colds and flu. Walking everywhere also made her family all that more hungry.

So, why should we run at the Greeley Can End Hunger 5K/2K Walk or Race on March 7th? For every dollar donated, Weld Food Bank, a nonprofit unassociated with any government entity, can provide six meals. WFB serves approximately 35,000 individuals a year through their direct service and Agency Partners, and because of their bare bones budget, WFB only spends 1.7% of budget on fundraising and administrative costs. The rest goes to feed hungry people.

Food insecurity

Weld Food Bank spends only 1.7% of budget on fundraising and administrative costs.

Everyone has their own reason for running. It may be a great chance to get a little exercise. It may be to get some friends together to run a few miles in camaraderie. Running is easier when you’re with a bunch of people all trying to catch their breaths alongside you.

Or we can run to support Weld Food Bank and its efforts to end hunger. There isn’t any human on Earth who doesn’t have problems. Problems don’t have legs. And we can run because we want others to feel strong.

Register at Bells Running, Weld Food Bank, or Need more info? Go to Greeley Can End Hunger 5K/2K Facebook page. Can’t make it? Contact Weld Food Bank to see how else you can help end hunger!

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Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished,, or on Twitter @EmFeedsYou . Life inspired. Vodka tempered.










Award-winning Chick Lit author Emily Kemme writes about the quirks of human nature. Find musings, recipes, and satire on her blog, Feeding the Famished. Novels | Drinking the Knock Water: A New Age Pilgrimage | In Search of Sushi Tora | Other works in progress

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  • Reply Judy March 5, 2015 at 6:20 pm

    I applaud both Ieisha for her courage in sharing her personal story, and you, Emily, for lending your talent to such an important cause!

  • Reply Ieisha Gutierrez February 28, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    I love it and it sounds great. I’m glad I could help and be an inspiration for the story. I also hope that my story helps other single mom’s to stay strong with their little ones and know that they are not alone in these harsh times of trying to keep their family in good health and well fed. Thank you Emily for your time.

    • Reply Emily Kemme February 28, 2015 at 11:55 pm

      Thank you, Ieisha, for sharing your story with me, and the world. It’s brave to let others know what you have gone through. I hope for all the best for you and your family.

  • Reply Cheri Witt-Brown February 28, 2015 at 10:17 am

    Thank you Emily Kemme for this excellent blog on the challenges 35,000 Weld County residents face struggling with food insecurity! The Weld Food Bank values your partnership and advocacy in our mission to lead and engage the community in our fight against hunger. We deeply appreciate your informative and insightful look inside the complexities of food insecurity!

    • Reply Emily Kemme February 28, 2015 at 10:22 am

      Thank you, Cheri. I appreciate you asking me to write this piece to encourage others to sign up for the Weld Food Bank Walk or Race event. What impresses me most about your organization is the strength of commitment from the community in support of WFB’s ongoing efforts to end hunger. Keep up the good work!

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