Robert Nesbitt opens his produce bag wide to receive delicious ripe apples from Kids' Farmers Market volunteer Meliss Gjerde as his mom Tasha Brown looks on. The market was held last fall at Robert's school, Whitehead Elementary in Woodland. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise file photo

Local News

Report details the face of hunger in Yolo County

By From page A1 | August 20, 2014

More than one in five Yolo County residents relies on the local food bank and other food assistance programs in order to stave off hunger, with Hispanics and seniors among those most in need, according to a report released this week.

The study, Hunger in America 2014, is a comprehensive examination of hunger in the United States conducted every four years by food banks nationwide. Locally, the study provides a snapshot of clients served by the Woodland-based Yolo Food Bank and its partner agencies.

That snapshot reveals 44,400 Yolo County residents receive assistance from the Yolo Food Bank and local emergency food providers each year, with nearly 40 percent of those recipients over the age of 60 and nearly 70 percent Hispanic.

Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor expressed some surprise about the numbers in the report, saying the 44,400 clients served by the food bank is significantly more than the previously reported 35,000.

“It demonstrates a greater problem than I have previously understood and is stunningly more than 20 percent of the total population in Yolo County,” Saylor said. “Moreover, not all food-insecure people have access to the food bank distribution programs. People in rural areas, people with limited mobility and other populations are not included here.”

Saylor said he also was struck by the high numbers of Hispanics and seniors among the food bank’s clientele.

Those over the age of 60 accounted for 39 percent of Yolo Food Bank clients, followed by individuals between the ages of 30 and 49 (30 percent) and those between the ages of 18 and 29 (23 percent).

Latinos were far and away the most heavily served, with the food bank counting 30,900 Latinos among the 44,400 total clients served.

Difficult choices

In addition to a breakdown on the ages and races of Yolo Food Bank recipients, the survey also looked at other issues surrounding food insecurity, including the kinds of choices people are making in order to put food on their tables.

For example, the survey found 57 percent of clients have to choose between paying for food or paying for medicine or medical care, with 20 percent facing that choice every month.

More than 30 percent have to choose between paying for food and paying for utilities, and 29 percent reported choosing between paying for food or paying for transportation in the past year.

“An estimated 69 percent of households reported using multiple strategies for getting enough food,” the report found, “including eating food past its expiration date, growing food in a garden, pawning or selling personal property and watering down food or water.”

More than one in four Yolo Food Bank clients reported buying damaged food packages to save money and nearly half reported buying unhealthy food because healthy food was too expensive.

The survey found one in five food bank clients have no income; 58 percent have annual incomes under $10,000; and 14 percent have incomes between $10,000 and $20,000. Eighty-six percent have household incomes that fall at or below the federal poverty level.

Meanwhile, just over half of adult food bank clients have a high school degree or its equivalent and 33 percent have some post-high school education.

College students are also represented among food bank clients, with 300 full-time students utilizing the food bank or partner agencies and another 3,100 part-time students doing so.

Medical issues

Other data revealed in the survey:

* 62 percent of households served by the food bank or partner agencies have a member with high blood pressure;

* 31 percent have a member with diabetes;

* 30 percent have no members with health insurance;

* 21 percent of respondents have faced foreclosure or eviction in the past five years;

* 39 percent currently receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps);

* 100 percent have children eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches; and

* 29 percent do not seek food assistance until they have run out of food altogether.

In accumulating the data, the report actually utilized two separate surveys — one of the Yolo Food Bank’s partner agencies and one of food bank clients themselves. The client surveys were conducted between April and August of 2013 and the partner agency surveys between October 2012 and January 2013.

The Yolo Food Bank currently partners with some 60 nonprofit agencies located throughout the county — agencies that are able to access food from the food bank’s inventory to provide snacks, meals and emergency food for clients at their respective agencies.

Partner agencies range from The Pantry serving students on the UC Davis campus to Davis Community Meals, the Yolo Elderly Nutrition Program/Meals on Wheels, the Progress Ranch group home for troubled boys, the Short-Term Emergency Aid Committee, the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Center of Yolo County and numerous faith-based organizations and churches.

Agencies struggle

Collectively, partner agencies distribute more than 1 million pounds of food bank food annually and serve 10,000 people each month.

But many of those partner agencies are struggling themselves, the report found.

“Although agencies and their programs employ creative strategies to manage their clients’ needs,” the report said, “some programs perceive an increasing need for services in their service areas and some report struggling to accommodate client demand.”

Among the programs affiliated with the Yolo Food Bank, 27 percent reported having somewhat less or a lot less food than needed to meet clients’ needs, the survey found.

“Economic conditions and other circumstances can have a significant impact on the ability of agencies to provide food and services and may result in agencies needing to cut back on their services,” the report said. “In the area served by Food Bank of Yolo County, 21 percent of agencies reported that they had to cut back on services in the past 12 months. Of those agencies cutting back on services, 10 percent cut hours of operation, 17 percent laid off staff and 13 percent limited the geographic area they serve.”

Between the high numbers of Yolo County residents in need of food assistance and the ongoing struggle of many agencies to serve them, the report is not particularly encouraging, but the Yolo Food Bank’s executive director, Kevin Sanchez, expressed gratitude for the effort that went into collecting the data.

“We are very grateful to our partners and the handful of loyal volunteers who, collectively, logged 195 hours interviewing the participants in this study,” Sanchez said. “Without their dedication we would not have been able to participate in this vital analysis of hunger in Yolo County.

“As we look ahead to Hunger Action Month this September,” he added, “it is important to remember the dynamic work Yolo Food Bank does every day and how much more we can do together, as a community, to alleviate hunger in our county.”

Saylor, meanwhile, said he is “heartened by the efforts underway in Yolo County to address the needs of people who are food-insecure.”

“I see people all across the county rising to address this issue,” Saylor said. “We are all a part of the fabric of this community and we must see this report as a renewed call to action.”

He also noted many of the efforts already underway to fight hunger in Yolo County, including the food bank’s weekly kids farmers markets at five low-income elementary schools; meal deliveries by the Elderly Nutrition Program/Meals on Wheels; and efforts by UCD and the Yolo County Department of Employment and Social Services to improve access by UCD students to food assistance programs.

Read the full Hunger in America 2014 report on the Yolo Food Bank’s website: www.yolofoodbank.org/newsroom.

— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected] or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy

Anne Ternus-Bellamy

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