By Antonio Zaragoza
In a city as vibrant and economically robust as San Diego, few would believe that one in five children living go hungry every day. Although most American households have dependable sources of income and food access, a portion of U.S. households experience food insecurity, which is a period during the year when access to food is limited or interrupted by lack of income and resources, according the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
Fourteen percent of American households were food insecure meaning 17.9 million households had a difficult time putting food on the table for their families. Of these, 6 percent of U.S. households had very low food security, according to a 2011 U.S. Department of Agriculture study.
The U.S. medium household income was $50,021 in 2011. More than 46 million Americans fell below the poverty line of $ 10,890 per single person or $23,021 for a family of four. According to the Jacob and Cushman San Diego Food Bank Website, more than 446,000 live below the poverty line in San Diego County, however, to qualify for food assistance, a person would have to make less than $33,000 per year in order to qualify for state food assistance.
Volunteers at the San Diego Food Bank receive and sort food donations. The food is then distributed to other local organizations and distributed directly to those in need.
Food insecurity for children and effects on health
For more than 16 million children in America, food insecurity poses a major threat to their long-term health and learning abilities. The effects of sustained malnutrition in children beyond the ages of two or three have irreversible effects on brain development and cognitive learning abilities. Malnutrition can be attributed to growth stunting and directly lead to deficiency anemia. Children who are stunted by malnutrition have higher levels of cognitive impairments, which may lead to lower test scores, greater rates of absenteeism, larger drop-out rates, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
The CDC also found malnutrition to be the largest cause of deaths in children under the age of five. Weight and height capacities in childhood directly correlate to adulthood body mass indexes. Children who are malnourished run the risk of not achieving optimum height as adults, which in turn can limit I.Q. and physical abilities in certain work capacities. Malnutrition in children can also lead to the inability for the body to create acceptable antibodies and natural immunities to viruses and diseases. People with weaker immunities in both childhood and adulthood are less productive in school and work.
For women who grow up malnourished as children, the risk of giving birth to low-weight babies is much higher.
The Academy of Educational Development (AED) has created software that calculates the magnitude of mortality, mental capacity and economic productivity in humans with nutritional challenges.
Food assistance programs in San Diego
The Jacobs and Cushman San Diego Food Bank is the largest receiver and distributor of food in the county. Many people believe the San Diego Food Bank primarily creates and distributes meals directly to citizens, which it has done and can do if needed. However, the food bank serves as a central distributor of food resources to smaller non-profit organizations throughout the county. Many of these smaller agencies consist of churches and food kitchens which make meals and feed people on a daily basis, San Diego Food Band communications officer Chris Carter said. On any given day the food bank has between two or three million pounds of food in storage.
This amount of food distributed is down from 20.4 million lbs. from the year prior because the amount of donations of food from the public has decreased during the recession while demand for food has increased, Carter said.
“Sadly, the need still remains very high,” he said. “We’re serving on average nearly 350,000 people every month in communities throughout San Diego County and the need is still very great.”
Carter says most people associate the food bank with the homeless population but the homeless constitute a low proportion of the total amount with food needs. The most in need, according to Carter, are the working poor, senior citizens who live on tight, fixed incomes and low-income military families.
“We serve about 16,000 low income military personnel and their dependents a month,” Carter said.
One San Diego based non-profits that uses food from the San Diego Food Bank is Bread of Life Rescue Mission. Volunteers pick up food and then distributes it to low-income families and homeless people. Bread of Life pastor Steve Basset says Bread of Life feeds over 10,000 people a month but resources and financial donations, which keep the mission open, are dwindling and becoming harder to find.
Bread of Life Rescue Mission serves over 10,000 meals per month to low-income and homeless San Diegans.