THE 3-MINUTE INTERVIEW: Charles Meng

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People,Naomi Jagoda

Meng is executive director of the Arlington Food Assistance Center. The nonprofit is having a number of events in September for Hunger Action Month.

Is hunger a big issue in Arlington?

Surprisingly, it is. This is an extremely wealthy community; it's got a very low unemployment rate, but that unemployment rate is concentrated in the lowest economic groups in our county. The fact that we're serving 1,600 families [each week], over 4,000 individuals, really indicates the extent of the problem. I think what we're dealing with at AFAC is the folks that are most in need of food.

What kinds of events are you planning for Hunger Action Month?

The most important one I think is the Hunger Challenge. This is where we ask people to join us in trying to live on the average amount of a [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] benefit -- that's a food stamp benefit -- in Arlington County. That average is approximately $4.03 per person per day. ... Then we have a number of other activities at restaurants. We've got a movie night at the Arlington Central Library. ... We also have gleaning opportunities. One of the places we get a lot of our fresh produce from is gleaning farmers' fields of vegetables and fruit that have been left as unharvestable by those farmers.

Have you ever tried living on $4.03?

I'm [taking] part in [the challenge] myself. This is one of the real issues that we face constantly down here at AFAC and also as a nation because one of the easy ways to live on $4 a day is to go to McDonald's or a fast-food joint and pick up a dollar menu meal or something of that nature. But the problem with that is that fast-food joints, although cheap, their food has a high caloric amount. It's high salt, high fat, high sugars.

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