One in six Yolo County residents lacked the resources to put food on the table on a regular basis in 2012, according to new data from Feeding America.
About a third of those residents — 10,750 of them — were children, and one-third of those children were ineligible for federal nutrition programs because their family incomes were above 185 percent of the federal poverty line (or above $44,000 for a family of four).
The numbers actually represent a slight improvement over 2011, when 17.6 percent of county residents were deemed food-insecure (as opposed to 16.9 percent in 2012) and 24.4 percent of children were food-insecure (versus 23.7 percent in 2012).
The data come as no surprise to the Yolo Food Bank, which remains a key source of nutrition for the food-insecure in the area.
Executive Director Kevin Sanchez said the Food Bank continues to experience an increase in demand from the hungry in Yolo County, in part because of the organization’s ongoing efforts to identify those in need “in order to close the gap between how many people we (serve) and how many are still in need.”
Sanchez said rural areas like much of Yolo County have more barriers to food security — including poverty, food availability and transportation access — than the national average.
According to Healthy Yolo, which recently released community health assessments for seven regions within the county, 18 percent of Yolo County residents have low food access because they live more than a mile from a large supermarket or grocery store in urban areas or more than 10 miles in rural areas. Statewide, 14 percent of Californians have that kind of barrier to food.
“We still have a way to go,” Sanchez said, “but by building and maintaining strong relationships with the county, the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation and our 60 partner agencies, we position ourselves to better serve those in need.”
The data released this week come from Feeding America’s “Map the Meal Gap 2014,” the only regular study that provides county-level estimates of food insecurity in the United States. The study is funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, ConAgra Foods Foundation and Nielsen.
According to the report, the weekly food budget shortfall nationwide in 2012 was $15.82 per person, with households experiencing food insecurity facing that shortfall on average seven months out of the year. In Yolo County, food-insecure individuals would need an additional $16.35 per week in order to put enough food on the table for an adequate diet.
Counties that produce much of the state’s food actually had some of the highest food budget shortfalls, in part because the average cost of a meal is higher. The cost of an average meal in California was $2.80 in 2012, higher than the national average of $2.74. Yolo County’s average meal cost was higher still, at $2.83.
Nearby counties with more food-insecure residents than Yolo County had even higher average meal costs. In Lake County, where one in five residents is food-insecure, the price of the average meal was $3.30 in 2012. In Colusa County, it was $3.97.
Feeding America provides an interactive map on its website to determine how widespread hunger is in all counties. The map can be seen at www.feedingamerica.org/mapthegap.
Sanchez said studies like Map the Meal Gap 2014 allow the Yolo Food Bank to continue to evaluate and adjust to the need in the area.
“The research data includes weekly food-budget shortfalls, demographics and poverty levels which help us define the social issues plaguing our area and work together with Yolo County, local municipalities and other community organizations to find a solution,” Sanchez said.
Meanwhile, Healthy Yolo’s health assessments provide an even closer look at those demographics and poverty levels.
For example, the northeastern portion of Yolo County — which includes Knights Landing, Zamora and Dunnigan — had the highest levels of poverty in the county in 2011. In this region, 41 percent of children were living below the federal poverty line, compared to 18 percent for the rest of the county’s children as a whole.
See regional-level reports at www.yolocounty.org/health-human-services/health-department/healthy-yolo/community-health-assessment.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected] or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy