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Thousands at risk of hunger locally
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
By BY PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer
A new study shows that 16.1 percent of the people in Henry County and 26.0 percent of the people of Martinsville — 12,380 people in all — are at risk of hunger.
However, that’s 3,030 fewer than the 15,410 people in the county and city who were at risk of hunger two years earlier.
That is according to a news release by Feeding America, which did the third annual Map the Meal Gap study, and information on its website. Feeding America is a hunger-relief organization.
Travis Adkins, executive director of Community Storehouse in Henry County, said he hasn’t seen a decline in recent years in the number of families coming there for food assistance. So far this year, the agency has served more than 3,000 households, he added.
Community Storehouse “hones in on” serving the elderly, disabled and children. “We can make the difference between having to choose between buying food or medicine, or not turning on the air conditioning to save money,” he said.
He added that Community Storehouse needs volunteers as well as donations of food and money.
The findings from the new Map the Meal Gap study estimate the rate of food insecurity for both the general population and, separately, for children under the age of 18.
Food insecurity refers to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods, according to the Feeding America website. Food insecure households are not necessarily food insecure all the time. Food insecurity may reflect a household’s needs to make trade-offs between basic needs, such as housing or medical bills, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods.
The new study showed Henry County’s overall food insecurity rate at 16.1 percent of the population, compared with 12.7 percent for the state. Henry County had a total of 8,770 food insecure people, or as the release put it, people who don’t know where they will find their next meal. About 10 percent of those people were not income-eligible for federal nutrition programs, and about 91 percent were income-eligible.
The study also found that 25.5 percent of Henry County’s children, or 2,880 children, were food insecure. That compares with 16.5 percent of children in Virginia. In Henry County, 84 percent of food insecure children were income-eligible for federal nutrition programs and 16 percent were not.
The new study showed Martinsville’s overall food insecurity rate at 26.0 percent of the population. Martinsville had 3,610 food insecure people. About 18 percent of those people were not income-eligible for federal nutrition programs, and about 83 percent were income-eligible.
Twenty-eight percent of Martinsville’s children, or 840 children, were food insecure. Of those, 79 percent were income-eligible for federal nutrition programs and 21 percent were not.
“Food insecurity is one of the leading public health challenges in the United States, and it’s affecting a large population in Martinsville and Henry County,” Pamela Irvine said in the release. Irvine is president and CEO of Feeding America Southwest Virginia.
“We are particularly concerned about children who are undernourished,” Irvine added. “Children who do not receive adequate nutrition may experience behavioral problems, have difficulty concentrating in school, and (have) an increased risk of medical problems. Lack of adequate nutrition in children, for even a brief period of time, may also cause permanent physical and developmental impairments.”
On the positive side, looking at all three annual Map the Meal Gap studies, Henry County’s overall food insecurity rate declined during the three years from 20.5 percent of the population or 11,390 people to 16.1 percent or 8,770, a decline of 2,620 people. Martinsville’s overall food insecurity rate declined from 27.4 percent of the population or 4,020 people to 26.0 percent of the population or 3,610 people, a decline of 410 people.
Looking at child food insecurity for those three years, Henry County’s rate declined from 30.1 percent of the county’s children or 3,470 children to 25.5 percent of the county’s children or 2,880 children, a decline of 590 children. Martinsville’s rate declined from 30.4 percent of the city’s children or 1,000 children to 28.0 percent of the city’s children or 840 children, a decline of 160 children.
The findings are based on statistics collected by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Food price data and analysis were provided by Nielsen, a global information and measurement company.
Feeding America Southwest Virginia distributes food for 13 million meals annually. Each month, its programs serve an average of 122,000 people in the region (26 counties and 10 cities, including Henry County and Martinsville). Partner programs include faith-based and community food pantries, homeless shelters, after-school and summer children programs, senior feeding programs, community kitchens and other nonprofit organizations.
Since 2008, Feeding America Southwest Virginia has experienced a 57 percent increase in food distributed, as well as a 52 percent increase in the number of households receiving emergency groceries through its 405 partner feeding programs.