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March 21, 2013

Food Pantry Numbers Appear to Back Report That 1 in 6 Missourians Struggle Paying for Food

A statewide report recently revealed that one in every six Missourians deals with the inability to afford enough food each month. Local statistics appear to back up that claim.

In February, the Scotland County Food pantry served 290 area families according to Pastor Dan Hite of the First Baptist Church, a volunteer coordinator with the local aid group.

Hite says the number of families served by the food pantry has grown by more than 100 in the past couple of years. Initially when the service was begun by Beverly Talbert through the Northeast Missouri Community Action Agency roughly a decade ago, approximately 75 families received food assistance through the program.

Today, the local food pantry distributes approximately 40,000 pounds of food each month courtesy of a semi-load of supplies from the Central Missouri Food Bank.

That food helps feed more than 180 children.

A new report released by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) highlights similar statistics statewide. According to the report 18.2 percent of respondents - or more than one in six people - in Missouri reported in 2012 not having enough money to buy food that they or their family needed at some points during the prior twelve months.

"It is unacceptable that so many people across Missouri are struggling and cannot afford enough food to provide for their families," said Jeanette Mott Oxford, Executive Director of Missouri Association for Social Welfare (MASW). "These numbers show us that we must make our nation's safety net stronger, not weaker. We can't afford to leave these vulnerable people behind."

FRAC's food hardship report analyzed data collected by Gallup and provided to FRAC. The data were gathered as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index project, which has been interviewing almost 1,000 households daily since January 2008. FRAC analyzed responses to the question: "Have there been times in the past twelve months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?"

One of the groups hardest hit by food shortages are senior citizens. Hite said that roughly 40% of the patrons of the Scotland County Food Pantry are seniors.

"There are the folks who we are seeing utilize fund shifting," Hite said. "They may not have enough money to pay for utilities, prescriptions or medical bills and still pay for food. So the food pantry helps their dollars stretch further."

Even though the project is targeting helping the needy, Hite noted that the pantry receives between $25 and $100 a month in donations from patrons to help pay the utility bills at the facility. He added that 90% of the volunteers who work on distribution days are patrons of the food bank.

The pantry recently has shifted to a "shopping" system that allows users to pick and choose which items they and their family will use.

"This has been truly beneficial, as it prevents items from going to homes where it will not be utilized," Hite said. "That leaves more for those who do truly want it."

Another transition at the food pantry is the utilization of appointment times. Patrons are asked to set up an appointment time during one of three different two-hour windows.

"This change hasn't gone over quite as well," Hite said. He noted the natural tendency to be concerned that quantities will expire in the early hours, leaving those with later appointments going without.

"We are working to insure adequate quantities of all items during all appointment times," he said.

The move is being made to cut down on road traffic at the site on distribution dates for safety reasons, as well as to improve internal traffic flow for shoppers at the pantry.

With the local increase in the number of families depend upon the food pantry, the question arises why?

"Persistent unemployment, stagnant wages, and inadequate public programs are contributing to the nation's high food hardship rate, yet Congress continues to propose cuts that would further fray our nation's nutrition safety net," said FRAC President Jim Weill. "Congress needs to fix the problems rather than doubling down on harming the most vulnerable Americans."

The group also argues that federal assistance programs are a key weakness, claiming that food stamp benefit levels are too low to allow people to purchase enough food. A report recently released by the Institute of Medicine underscored the current inadequacy of SNAP benefit levels in ensuring that recipient's nutritional needs are met, and outlined flaws in how SNAP benefits are currently calculated.

"SNAP benefits must be improved, and not endure further cuts as some in Congress have proposed. A majority of Americans oppose such cuts," said Oxford. "The conversation needs to change in Washington, and Congress needs to focus on building - not weakening - our nation's safety net. The first step is passing a Farm Bill this year that protects and strengthens SNAP."

The full report is available at www.frac.org


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