Dec 20, 2017
Though household incomes rose in 2016 for some Sonoma County families, more than 160,000 low-income households continued to be unable to afford the food needed to prepare three meals a day. For these residents, many of them children and seniors, going without lunch or missing breakfast is unavoidable even by those receiving help from local charitable and government nutrition programs.
According to the latest annual Sonoma County Hunger Index report, the number of meals missed by low-income residents in 2016 was 70.8 million, a decrease from 82.3 million in 2015. Higher incomes mean that more county residents could afford enough food for three meals a day.
However, hunger still affects our lowest-income residents whose annual earnings are below $50,000. One-third of our county population missed a total of 26 million needed meals last year. That’s an average of three meals each week per person, meaning that some individuals miss more meals and others fewer.
The Sonoma County Hunger Index measures the county’s yearly progress toward meeting the basic food needs of all residents beyond the assistance provided by community and government programs. Data is calculated by: 1) totaling the number of meals local low-income families need, based on the USDA’s Food Plan for a healthy food intake, 2) subtracting the number of meals families purchased on their own, and 3) adding in the number of meals provided by food assistance programs.
One reason so many were hungry was the shrinking of state and federal nutrition subsidies that fund school lunch programs, the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, the Redwood Food Bank and CalFresh (formerly known as food stamps).Cuts meant that the meals provided by these organizations in 2016 totaled 44.8 million, a decrease from 48.6 million in 2015.
And when the cost of food, rent and other basic needs increases, low-income residents are more severely affected than those with larger incomes. Their dollars to purchase food simply won’t stretch as far.
“While too many people went hungry in 2016, since the recent fires and the losses of homes, jobs and financial stability, we’re even more afraid for the future,” said Sonoma County Human Services Department Economic Assistance Director Kim Seamans. “People who make under $50,000 a year usually rent, and the already critical housing crunch has gotten worse. As rents go up, more residents will end up having to choose between having a roof over their heads and paying for other necessities, including food.”
“We also know that it takes a long time for a community to recover economically after a fire – three to five years at least,” says Redwood Empire Food Bank Director of Programs Allison Goodwin. “As our community gets back on its feet, we need the community to keep working with us to stop hunger. We can end hunger, but only if we work together.”
“Charitable donations, food donations and volunteering with a hunger relief program are the best ways people can help right now,” says Goodwin. “There are organizations out there that can make a positive difference in the coming lean years, but only with ongoing help.”
For more about actions individuals and groups can take to close the meal gap in Sonoma County, visit SonomaHungerIndex.com.
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