Student documentary explores food insecurity

ALAMOSA — The documentary “A Meal Out of Reach,” produced by Adams State University students, will be premiered during Hunger Education Week, Monday, April 24, at 7 p.m. in McDaniel Hall room 101 on the Adams State campus. The event is open to the public with no admission fee, but attendees are asked to bring fresh fruit or vegetables instead, to benefit the Food Bank Network of the San Luis Valley. Parking is available in the lot east of McDaniel Hall on First St.

The 22-minute film looks at food insecurity in the San Luis Valley, where about one-quarter of residents must rely at times on the Food Bank Network. The project was produced through a $5,000 grant from the Colorado Office of Film, TV and Media, with a $5,000 match from the Adams State University Foundation.

Documentary Film Production students Jessika Vandivier and Ren Westerman have been working on the project over the last year, advised by Dr. Beth Bonnstetter, associate professor of communications. They produced 761 audio and video files - 170 gigabytes worth - in their quest to raise awareness of hunger.

“We’re hoping the film will be the hook that causes people to pay attention to the San Luis Valley and food insecurity,” said Westerman, who edited the documentary. “I have been able to experience the documentary on a more human level. It’s been interesting to learn about people’s lives and know you can walk up to a food bank and find ways to help.”

Vandivier, who directed the film, said, “Even if viewers don’t connect with the San Luis Valley, we hope the film will open their eyes to look at their own communities. We want to motivate people to help.” The film had exactly that impact when the pair screened the film at the annual convention of the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association, held recently in Albuquerque.

“It stimulated a lot of conversation among people who were either unaware of the problem, or who were glad it was being addressed,” she said.

In the film, Food Bank Director John Reesor defines food insecurity as the lack of access to nutritional food, due to financial or other constraints. “There is need all around us. My calling is to do something about poverty and food insecurity.” The Food Bank Network operates 14 food pantries across the six counties of the San Luis Valley, including Adams State’s new Food Pantry.

Claudia Ebel, with Valley Educational Gardens Initiative (VEGI), points out the irony that although the San Luis Valley is an agricultural community, many people lack access to healthy food. Three of the four poorest counties in Colorado are located in the San Luis Valley, which has an unemployment rate of 7.8 percent — twice the state rate.

“The issue is not just about getting enough calories, but getting healthy foods,” she said.

Reesor noted that 30 percent of the population served by the Food Bank Network are children. Others include working families and the elderly. Many live in “rural food deserts,” with the nearest grocery store 15 or more miles away.

The film highlights the “Snack Sack” effort begun by Ankhzahra Soshotep, an Alamosa mother of four who took matters into her own hands. When she learned many kids go without lunch one day each week, when the school day ends early, she used her own resources to make and distribute 80 sack lunches to children at their bus stops. Once Food Bank staff became aware of her project, they soon pitched in with food supplies.

“Some of these people are one paycheck from being homeless, from putting food in the fridge ... feed your neighbor,” Soshotep said.

Hunger Education Week, April 23-28, will also include the Crop Walk, a garden work day, Hunger Happy Hour, and a tour of Cooking Matters. For details, please call the Food Bank at 719-589-4567. Adams State University is holding its Earth Week and Wellness Week events simultaneously with Hunger Education Week, in recognition that the three endeavors share similar goals.


Documentary Film Production students Ren Westerman and Jessika Vandivier review their documentary “A Meal Out of Reach.”

Photo courtesy of ASU