It's difficult to imagine that hunger exists in America's Heartland. However, thousands of our Wisconsin neighbors are food insecure, meaning at times they don't know where or when they will have their next meal. Others are hungry, meaning there is no next meal.
In the 14 Wisconsin counties that Feed My People Food Bank serves, 69,950 people live in poverty according to 2010 Poverty and Population estimates from the US Census Bureau. This is a 76% increase from data recorded in the 2000 census.
Families Falling Through the Cracks
Approximately 43% of households using food pantries report that the family's major source of income is paid employment. Many families try to make ends meet but because they bring in some income, they may not qualify for government programs.
“…the day I call to say, 'Hey, I got a job. It’s a temporary position, contracted 160 hours.’ As of that day … she’s like, ‘Well, you won’t get any food stamps next month then.’ Meanwhile you’re really hungry at work and haven’t gotten paid yet. And then sometimes they hold back a check, too. Yeah, it took me four weeks to get my first check …”
Those at Highest Risk – Children and Seniors
A child’s cognitive, emotional, and physical development depends on access to wholesome foods and good nutrition. According to U.S. Census Bureau, one in five children in west central Wisconsin experience food insecurity. Many struggle with hunger when school meals are not available.
“I make sure she eats – make sure she gets her balanced meal and then whatever I can find to snack on afterwards – and then I just lie to her. ‘I already ate; I ate before you came home from school.’“
According to the study Hunger in America 2010, 30% of seniors who rely on our local food pantries for help report that they have had to choose between paying for food and paying for medical care. Among food pantry clients 65 and older, more than half reported visiting a pantry on a monthly basis, the highest of any age group.
“Probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was use food stamps. I’ve always been self-reliant, and at first, being on food stamps made me feel like I had failed –but I didn’t fail, I worked hard my entire life and now I needed help.”
Individuals Struggling With the High Cost of Living Expenses and Health Care
Many families are a car repair, broken bone, or lost job away from being food insecure. Unexpected expenses and the high cost of health care can be devastating to families already struggling.
“There are always set-backs; miss work because kids are sick, car or dryer is broke. Assistance programs don’t account for set-backs or fluctuations of wages when work hours or the amount earned is not consistent.”
Resources for exploring hunger statistics locally and nationally:
The Wisconsin Food Security Project
Food Research and Action Center
Feeding America, Map the Meal Gap