By; Robert S Weinroth
What is food insecurity and how can this possibly be something impacting fully twenty percent of the residents in Palm Beach County?
Not surprisingly, the pandemic exasperated a problem our county was already working to address. However, given the significant impact wrought by the virtual shutdown of our economy, followed by a slow reboot, the needs have become more critical and the plan of action more complicated.
Back in 2015, Palm Beach County, in partnership with the United Way of Palm Beach County launched a comprehensive Hunger Relief Plan. It began by establishing a strategy of recognized the need to launch a comprehensive campaign to raise awareness about the extent of hunger in our community. Absent community awareness of the magnitude of the issue, it was clear the necessary resources to launch a war on poverty would remain out of reach.
Coordination and collaboration are keys for the success of the Hunger Relief Initiative. Prior to the pandemic progress was being made. The number of food insecure individuals in the county had fallen from 200,000 residents (including 64,000 children) in 2015 to 184,000 residents (53,000 children) in 2019.
While the results (an 8 percent reduction in food insecure residents and a 17 percent reduction in food insecure children) were modest, it is worth noting the county population had increased 6 percent in that period meaning rather than the number of food insecure residents increasing to 212,000, its reduction to 184,000 actually meant a 14 percent reduction in residents and a 22 percent reduction in food insecurity for children had been realized.
Nobody was taking a victory lap over these numbers but it was clear, the initiatives was bearing fruit.
One of the goals of the Hunger Relief Plan has been to provide ALL CHILDREN in Palm Beach County with access to the nutritious food they need to build healthy bodies and strong minds. The Childhood Hunger working group focused on three areas:
- Afterschool Meals;
- Summer Break spot; and
- Weekend Backpacks.
Another goal of the Hunger Relief Plan has been to ensure low-income older county residents have balanced nutritional diets. The Senior Hunger working group developed a five-year plan to end senior hunger, titled “Senior Hunger Solutions,” with its key elements of success being the maximization of senior participation in SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) and the expansion of Congregate Meals and Home delivered Meals.
Food security for a household means access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.
Food security includes at a minimum:
- Ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods; and
- The ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways (in other words, without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing, or other coping strategies).
We live in a community that is remarkably affluent. Many of our residents enjoy very comfortable lives and the thought of being food insecure is the furthest thing from their minds.
However, the pandemic has resulted in the most vulnerable within our community, living close to the edge, with savings depleted, bills accumulating, unable to afford the cost of housing and nutrition. Many of these at risk individuals are working poor, heretofore struggling to stay above water but now finding themselves pushed into a financial abyss.
The County and its many nonprofit partners have redoubled their effort in an effort to mitigate the misery being endured by over 300,000 of our county residents. Along with the Palm Beach County Food Bank, Farmshare and Feeding South Florida, the county continues to deploy resources.
The county received $263 million in CARES Act Recovery funds from the federal government. Of that, over $32 million has been budgeted for emergency food distribution (food distribution exceeding normal base expenses and community food programs identified in the county’s emergency feeding program).
This is a daunting task with a long-term comprehensive plan to address. It is an issue we cannot afford to ignore and a war we cannot lose.