JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When? Where? How? More than 342,000 individuals wake up each morning in north Florida asking these very questions about their next opportunity to eat. Among that total is more than 117,000 children under the age of 18.
While these families and individuals might not be hungry, they are considered to be “food insecure,” a new term used by the federal government to describe lack of access, at times, for enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. The fastest-growing population in this food-insecure group is the working poor – households that have working members but can’t make ends meet, often times forced to substitute other bills and expenses for money that would have been used to buy food.
In the 18-county area served by Nourishment Network North Florida, 136,269 people are in this class of working poor with no access to federal or state benefits and often limited means to buy food, according to a national study released by Feeding America this week, Map The Meal Gap 2011. The study indicates that 342,600 people are food insecure in the Nourishment Network service area, a total that represents 17.5 percent of the area’s population. Of that total, 39.7 percent (136,269 people) make too much money to qualify for federal assistance like food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Even more troubling is that 25.6 percent of the area’s children under the age of 18 are food insecure (117,040) – including 41,117 whose families make too much money to qualify for federal assistance.
“We are seeing more and more that the people most affected by our current economic conditions are families that have working parents in the home,” Nourishment Network Interim Executive Director Karen Rieley said. “They work multiple jobs but are unable to keep up with the increasing costs of living. As utility rates rise, their paychecks stay the same. As gas prices rise, that isn’t accounted for in the family budget. As school starts and new clothes are needed for their children, something has to give. Often times, it is food.”
Nourishment Network provides food for residents in Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Clay, Columbia, Dixie, Duval, Flagler, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Lafayette, Levy, Madison, Nassau, Putnam, St. Johns, Suwannee and Union counties. According to a different study released last year, Hunger In America 2010, Nourishment Network provides food to more than 170,700 individuals annually in those counties.
Combining the data from the two studies seems to indicate that approximately 172,000 people are in need of assistance in that same geographic area but haven’t reached out to find it.
“Over the last two years, we have clearly seen a spike in the number of middle class and working families who are coming to us for help,” Rieley said. “They have nowhere else to go, and through our network of member agencies we have tripled our food output in response to the need. These numbers show us, however, that we have a long way to go. There are more families who need our help, and we are working each day to reach them and let them know we can help fill the gap for their families.”
Nourishment Network provides emergency food relief to families and individuals, regardless of income, through its network of more than 400 member agencies. Food donations come from local grocery partners, regional food wholesalers, local food drives, individuals, farmers and farmers markets, the federal government and the Feeding America network. The food is then distributed to agencies like church pantries, medical clinics, senior citizen centers, after-school programs, summer programs, shelters and feeding sites that provide assistance to low-income clients in their own neighborhoods and communities.
In the last four years, Nourishment Network has increased its distribution by more than 174 percent – from 7.6 million pounds in 2008 to a projection of more than 21 million pounds in 2011. In 2011, Nourishment Network will distribute food resources equivalent to 16.15 million meals.
People needing help with food are encouraged to visit Nourishment Network North Florida’s website – WeNourishHope.org – and click on “Need Help?”, or call United Way’s First Call for Help at 2-1-1 or Nourishment Network at 904.353.FOOD to get a list of nearby food pantries.
National – 16.6 percent of the population
Florida – 17.1 percent of the population (3,115,650 people)
Nourishment Network’s 18-County Service Area – 17.5 percent of the population (342,600 people)
|Duval County||18.3%||154,800 people|
|Clay County||14.4%||25,810 people|
|Nassau County||14.7%||10,020 people|
|Baker County||18.3%||4,670 people|
|St. Johns County||13.3%||23,200 people|
(Percent below SNAP threshold of 200% poverty vs. Percent above SNAP threshold)
|County||Eligible for SNAP||Ineligible for SNAP|
|St. Johns County||45%||55%|
* Average cost of a meal is $2.62 in Florida
* Average cost of a meal is $2.54 nationally
* Madison and Putnam counties are among five counties with highest food insecurity rate in Florida, two counties that are served by Nourishment Network North Florida
* The report also breaks down the rates into congressional districts.
District 3, Rep. Corinne Brown, has the highest food insecurity rate among Florida districts (27.1 percent, 173,410 individuals); District 4, Rep. Ander Crenshaw, has the state’s lowest food insecurity rate (15.1 percent, 105,230 individuals)
About Nourishment Network North Florida
Nourishment Network North Florida is the oldest and largest program of Lutheran Social Services of Northeast Florida. LSS was founded in 1979 by area Lutherans and business leaders to fill gaps in services offered in the community for people in need. Nourishment Network gathers food from local and national sources, shares these resources with more than 400 nonprofit organizations in 18 north Florida counties and helps thousands of people each year who are hungry or at risk of not having being able to provide food for themselves and their families. In addition to collecting and distributing food, Nourishment Network serves children in after-school programs through its Kids Cafe and BackPack programs and in summer camps through its Summer Lunch program. It also takes Mobile Pantries filled with Family Boxes of food to people living in neighborhoods with the greatest needs. Call 904.730.8234 for more information about any of these programs and services.