We are excited to announce that we have released the results of our year-long Feeding Our Community Survey that shows what so many of our neighbors are facing each day. We receive anecdotal information so very often from those who receive help from the Food Bank and from our many partner agencies but it is difficult not to wonder, what is the more accurate story across our service area.
We surveyed those in our community over an entire year to better understand what happens in our community through many seasons. We also partnered with the Nevada Center for Surveys, Evaluation, and Statistics at the University of Nevada Reno to assist us with the project.
Community members were surveyed from March 2021 to March of 2022 and it was a significant investment of time for our staff, partners and volunteers. We knew it was going to be a heavy lift but we also know how important it is to get a picture of what people are facing and how we are doing so that we can move the needle in the right direction, toward a heathier community.
Because of the diverse nature of our 90,000 square mile service area, we also knew that it was important to represent those in urban, rural and frontier counties served by the Food Bank.
We wanted to know what our neighbors are facing and how does food insecurity affect their daily lives. We sought to get an idea of financial security and housing situations among those who have received assistance. What are the coping mechanisms that people have adopted to combat food insecurity and what are the tradeoffs made to survive? In the time that our survey came to be, we realized that it would also be important to address how the pandemic affected the lives of those who face hunger and how much it played a factor.
As an organization, an important part of this survey was also to find out how we are doing at our work? What are the barriers and challenges that people are facing to get the necessary food on the table? How can we do better? As a leader for the organization, this was one of the most important aspects for me. The hunger relief movement has grown across the country to an unbelievable size and my colleagues and I, in the Feeding America network, are always wanting to know what we can do to create lasting change in our communities. The age-old question of – How can work ourselves out of a job?
I wish that I could say that I was shocked by everything that we learned but, unfortunately, the realities are shown to us each day in our work. People are really struggling. I will say that to see it all, typed up in a report does shine a light on how significant and dire the situation is for so very many. We have seen the numbers of people needing help increase and we hear the stories of their lives, but to see it across the board is unsettling. The problem with hunger is that people who are facing it, often suffer in silence, unnoticed by many. If there was a greater light on the reality, it is difficult to imagine that it wouldn’t be recognized as one of the largest public health emergencies of our time.
We learned that having a sufficient income to provide food for your family and pay the necessary bills was a significant issue with those we talked to. We learned that more than 65% of those surveyed had a household income of less than $20,000 per year, and that 85% had a household income less than $30,000. It doesn’t take too much number crunching to realize that this would make for an impossible budget. We know that 17% of those receiving help, have served our country in the US Military. We know that 72% either rent or own where they call home and 26% had a mortgage.
We learned that nearly half of those receiving help reporting choosing unhealthy options in their food budget due to the lower cost and one out of every 5 people reported not having enough money left over to buy food every single month.
One of the most heartbreaking things that we hear is that people skip meals, and cut their portions to make it through tough times. We hear this most often from parents who want to make sure that they have enough food for their children. In this survey, we learned that 62% people reported skipping meals or cutting portions.
We knew that the economic effects of COVID-19 were significant for families because of the increases that we saw but 29% of people reported starting to use a food pantry program as a direct result of the pandemic.
Families must face impossible choices every day. We know that 41% of those served have had to choose between housing costs and food. We know that more than half reported choosing between transportation and food. 1 in every 3 people surveyed have had to choose between paying medical bills and buying food.
As a society and a community, these statistics speak volumes because each one represents someone who is just trying to get by. I know as we also analyze the barriers that people are facing, we will upgrade our programs to improve access to those who need them. We will continue to seek out partnerships that will maximize our impact as a team and we will continue to look for solutions that combat the many issues that create food insecurity in our communities.
Thank you as always for your caring support for those who face hunger in our community. You can find the link here to the executive summary of the survey and also to a snapshot of the statistics, Hunger by the numbers.
There are so many ways to get involved in this work and we appreciate your commitment to those who face hunger. I have included some links below with some additional information that you can explore. With you by our side, I am so optimistic for our future.
Nicole Lamboley, president & CEO, Food Bank of Northern Nevada