September is Hunger Action Month when we call attention to the critical issue of hunger in Orange County. We’re often met with disbelief when we talk about the hungry men, women and children in our community, but this is an all-too-real problem with real consequences not just for those who are suffering, but for the rest of us too.
Let’s start with the most recent statistics from Feeding America’s 2017 Map the Meal Gap. According to this study, Orange County has an astounding gap of 60 million meals missed in 2016 by more than 315,000 people, including 129,000 children. This amounts to one in six children and one in 10 adults who don’t have enough food to be able to live productive lives.
We’ve all heard the economy’s getting better, so how can so many be without the food they need? The truth is the economy hasn’t improved for those on the lower end of the pay scale and for these workers the situation is dire.
The working poor, the majority of people standing in line, are disproportionately affected by the high cost of housing. Average rent in Orange County is $1,799 a month, up 2.5 percent from the previous year and forecast to increase 9.5 percent by 2018. Minimum wage workers make only $1,820 a month so it’s easy to see they simply don’t make enough to pay for rent, utilities, food, medical care and other necessities. This forces impossible choices between paying for rent or food, or medical care and food.
When adults don’t get enough to eat, they can’t perform well at home, in school, or on the job. Children who miss meals struggle in school and are more likely to have behavioral problems, repeat a grade in school and experience developmental impairments. They’re also more likely to become sick and need to be hospitalized.
These long-term consequences affect not only the children, but our community as well. The lack of nutritious food when they most need it can seriously impair children’s ability to reach their full potential which can impact our future workforce.
Most of our clients are the working poor who used food assistance to get through temporary shortfalls, but increasingly there’s evidence that they’re using food assistance as part of a long-term strategy to cover recurring shortfalls on a more-or-less permanent basis.
Food insecure households use many coping strategies to stretch budgets. Research conducted by Feeding America for Hunger in America 2014 reported:
• 58 percent of households had to choose…