Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Hunger in Our Communities

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Hunger in Our Communities

Article excerpt

A nationwide study poses a challenge for Sarasota and Manatee

Behind the image that Sarasota and Manatee counties project to the world -- the gorgeous weather, the glistening beaches, the laid- back lifestyle -- is a face less well known: the face of hunger.

It's not the hunger of the starving people of Third World countries. It's a more subtle kind -- the kind where families don't always know how, or if, they will get their next meal. The kind where trade-offs must sometimes be made between paying the rent or medical bills and buying groceries.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines that kind of hunger as "food insecurity" -- essentially, the lack of "access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life."

The USDA estimates that 50 million Americans, including 17 million children, struggle with hunger on a regular basis. Not every day, but more often than not.

So Sarasota and Manatee aren't unusual in that regard. Food insecurity occurs in every county in America.

But the level of hunger that a recent nationwide study found in Florida and in our region is troubling, especially in regard to the number of children impacted. As the study points out, the lack of adequate nutrition can affect a child's health, behavior and ability to concentrate in school.

The hunger in Sarasota and Manatee stands as a challenge to government, charitable groups and individual residents. The good news is that local community organizations are already taking up that challenge.

'Map the Meal Gap'

The nationwide study, "Map the Meal Gap," was sponsored by Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks. It's based on 2011 statistics collected by the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics, and on food price data supplied by the Nielsen information and measurement company.

The study estimates food insecurity rates for the general population, and for children under the age of 18, nationally and in each state and county.

Nationally, the study found that 16.4 percent of the population - - about one in six Americans -- struggles with food insecurity. For children, the number is 22.4 percent.

In Florida, the numbers are significantly worse: 18.7 percent of the general population and 28.4 percent of children. Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Florida ranks sixth in the rate of child food insecurity.

In Manatee County, the rate for overall population, 15.5 percent, is better than the national rate. But for children, the rate -- 27 percent -- approaches the state's.

In Sarasota County, the overall rate of food insecurity is 14.3 percent, but the rate for children is 25 percent.

Unfortunately, federal food assistance programs such as food stamps are not the solution. They're tied to multiples of the federal poverty line, and many families in hunger don't qualify. …

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