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For many years we have seen the all too familiar images of hunger from outside our country. But there is hunger inside our borders too. Food insecurity in the United States is real.
Project-44 has a history of addressing food insecurity. Our Food Distribution ministry has existed nearly as long as the Car Ministry that started our organization. At one time, we operated a farm that delivered hundreds of pounds of organic produce each week to those in need. In addition, we partnered with local churches to run Family-to-Family, an outreach that equipped a family from the church to deliver food and spiritual care to another family in need. Right now, we support the Tarrant Area Food Bank in Fort Worth, Texas through our partnerships with several local churches who operate food pantries. Our mission is simple: get healthy food options into the hands of those who need help to curb the uncertainty about the source of their next meal.
The need has been evident for many years, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused a surge in the number of families experiencing food insecurity. And just when we thought the worst had passed, we saw another surge caused by supply chain issues. The fallout from the pandemic and economic issues impacted a food distribution network we took for granted. As the pandemic subsided we noticed a decline in the number of people visiting the food pantries we serve. Unfortunately, the numbers are now trending to a return to pandemic levels of demand.
Defining the Problem
According to the US Department of Agriculture, food insecurity refers to the economic and social conditions that limit access to adequate food. People who face food insecurity do not have sufficient resources to consistently access the food needed to sustain a healthy lifestyle. As a result, they might eat lower-quality foods or skip meals entirely. “Resources” in this case not only means money, it means availability. There is such a thing as a food desert. Often found in rural and lower-income areas, these deserts lack access to the most fundamental nutritional needs.
Food insecurity is often measured in terms of its severity and its cycle. Moderate insecurity tends to be more temporary and occurs when people reduce the quality or quantity of food they eat due to life circumstances. Those suffering from moderate food insecurity as a result of job loss or other economic factors are often the majority of visitors to the food pantries where we serve. Those experiencing severe food insecurity often go entirely without food, some for days at a time. The people in this group are the “hungry,” representing the extreme side of the food security spectrum. Their plight is a chronic struggle. We may not see these people in the food pantry lines because they are living without the ability even to seek out the help they need.
Impact in the United States
While some would think of food insecurity as an issue specific to emerging economies, many people in the United States face this challenge, as evidenced by the lines at the local food pantries. A study cited by McKinsey and Company estimates that in 2020, 38.3 million people in the United States lived in food-insecure households. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, that number grew in 2021 to more than 40 million, according to research conducted by Feeding America, a US-based nonprofit that operates a network of over 200 food banks.
The impact of food insecurity extends beyond just hunger. Another study cited by McKinsey found that in communities with high instances of food insecurity, the likelihood of dying from COVID-19 per 100,000 residents was 1.4 times higher. In addition, those regions with a higher percentage of food-insecure people tend to have higher rates of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.
If you would like to learn more about food insecurity in the United States at the local level, we recommend Feeding America’s annual Map the Meal Gap study.
Solving the Problem
What’s the solution? Food banks are one option. These local agencies, such as the Tarrant Area Food Bank in Fort Worth, TX, collect and store donated food and then distribute it to community organizations such as food pantries, shelters, and meal programs. In turn, these community organizations serve as the front line distributing food directly to individuals in need. The impact of this network of food distribution did not go unnoticed at the height of the pandemic when the United States experienced a surge in demand for food support. Unfortunately, the demand remains high even as we return to a more “normal” life without shutdowns and disruptions to the supply chain.
Reducing excessive food waste at all stages of production, distribution, and consumption could help alleviate some food insecurity. Feeding America reports that they rescue nearly 3.6 billion pounds of food annually. This is the result of efforts by just one organization. Imagine the impact if a more concerted effort was made to redirect usable food destined for landfills to people in need instead.
What can we do? There is no reason anyone in the United States should have to worry about where they are going to find nutritious food for their family. We have enough food available in this country that hunger shouldn’t be anyone’s concern. Each of us can take small steps that will help alleviate food insecurity. Here are a few ideas:
Support local food banks. Whether it’s a financial gift or food donations, what you give to a local food bank will find its way to those who need the help. Second, volunteer at a local food pantry. Many of these outreach programs depend on the time donated by volunteers to complete their work. Being on the front line provides an opportunity to see firsthand the impact of food insecurity on our communities. Finally, evaluate how your household might be contributing to excessive food waste, and take steps to reduce or eliminate it. Food that your family is throwing out might have helped someone else.
Project-44 is committed to helping those who are experiencing food insecurity, whether it’s temporary or chronic. Visit our Food Distribution page to see how we’re helping in our community. If you would like to make a financial contribution to support our efforts, visit our Donate page or use our Contact page to request more information.
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