Santa Rosa, CA – February 7, 2020 – Sonoma County residents with incomes below the federal poverty line often have to choose which bills to pay each month – sometimes that means going hungry in order to keep the lights on or buy gas to get to work.
According to newly released Hunger Index data, the good news is that the number of meals missed by residents in poverty is at its lowest since 2011. However, hunger is still a significant problem that endangers the health of many children, families, working and older adults in households earning less $50,000 a year.
Though more low-income families could afford to buy enough food in 2018, there remained a 14-million-meal shortfall between what poor residents could buy and what local non-profits, government programs such as CalFresh and the Women and Infant Children program (WIC), school meals, group meals for seniors and home-delivered meals could provide.
For two years, the total number of people at risk for hunger has remained steady. In 2018, 60,000 low-income households – about 1/3 of county residents – couldn’t afford enough food to eat a healthy three meals a day, according to the latest Sonoma County Hunger Index report.
According to the federal Food and Drug Administration, the agency responsible for food health, the average amount needed to feed one person in Sonoma County is $6,667. However, those at risk of hunger only were able to spend an average of $5212 on food, meaning they were short $1454 a year or about $120 each month. That’s a lot of groceries.
“The positive news is that in 2018, more households could purchase food to meet their basic needs. That lowered the number of missed meals in Sonoma County,” said Sonoma County Human Services Department Economic Assistance Division Director Felisa Pinson.
Residents would have missed more meals without increased help from local charities and government nutrition programs. Locally in 2018, government and non-profit food assistance programs, such as CalFresh benefits and food banks, provided 41.5 million meals to poor families.
According to the Sonoma County Hunger Index Coalition, a major reason for hunger in Sonoma County is the rising cost of housing, which was at crisis levels even before the 2017 fires. “Lower income residents usually rent, and, after the 2017 fires, rents went up,” said Catholic Charities Director of Community Connections and Evaluation Cynthia King. “Families were forced to choose between having a roof over their heads and other basic needs, including food.”
“If you're a moderate-low income earner, the slightest increase in the cost of living can have a big impact. As gas prices rise, rent increases and utilities continue to soar, there is less discretionary income,” says Redwood Empire Food Bank Director David Goodman. “The only two expenses people can cut back on are health care and food. We all know they are both related and practically the same thing. It's impossible to change the cost of child care, rent or clothing, but you can go to the clinic less often, even if you're feeling ill, you can postpone making it to the dentist and you can skip meals.”
The Hunger Index Coalition believes that there are solutions to hunger in Sonoma County. “We can end hunger, but only if we work together as a community,” says Allison Goodwin, Director of Programs, Redwood Empire Food Bank. Charitable donations, food donations and individuals and groups volunteering with hunger relief programs all help, she says.
To learn more about local programs making a positive difference, visit the Sonoma County Hunger Index website under How You Can Help or the Hunger Index partner agencies’ websites.
The Sonoma County Hunger Index measures the county’s annual progress toward preventing hunger by meeting low-income residents’ basic food needs.
Data is calculated by:
1) multiplying the number of families living under the federal poverty level by the number of meals the U.S. Department of Agriculture says is needed for good health,
2) subtracting the number of meals families bought on their own and
3) subtracting the number of meals provided by food assistance programs.
The Sonoma County Hunger Index was created by a coalition of food assistance agencies as part of its work toward the local Healthy and Sustainable Food Action Plan. Partners include: