In August, 39,952 households in central and northeast Missouri did not know where their next meal would come from or how they could purchase it.
One-in-five children in central and northeast Missouri is food insecure, said Scott Gordon, spokesman for the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri.
Mid-Missouri’s level of food insecurity marks the the largest increase in the nation between 200 and 2012, according to the Hunger Atlas 2013, a report published by the MU Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security.
Nobody was documenting hunger needs in Missouri. There is no census of hunger; there is no department of hunger, so the Hunger Atlas was meant to fill in that gap, said Dr. James Rikoon, Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security.
“The Atlas came about because we couldn’t find the data we needed, so we decided to create it ourselves,” Rikoon said.
The number of food insecure people rose by 7.4 percent, and the population experiencing very low food security increased by 4.4 percent, according to the report.
Within Boone County alone, more than 6.4 million pounds of food was distributed by food banks, according to the report.
Food insecurity spans various demographics and covers a spectrum of ages, races and socioeconomic statuses, Gordon said.
“The old stereotype of the smelly hobo who lives under an overpass really no longer applies, if it ever did,” Gordon said. “The people who come to Food Bank partner-agencies for food assistance literally look like America.”
The majority of families seen by the Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri have at least one person holding a job, yet these working-poor families still cannot escape food insecurity, Gordon said.
“Thousands of Missourians are living on the economic razor’s edge,” Gordon said. “They are one bad break — an unexpected medical bill, a major home or car repair bill, a layoff — away (from) needing food assistance.”
Voluntary Action Center executive director Nick Foster has seen a similar trend in the people requiring emergency food services from the center, Foster said.
The Voluntary Action Center works to meet the needs of low-income individuals and families in the Columbia area.
Though the unemployment rate in Boone County is lower than that of the state, according to the 2013 Hunger Atlas, Foster said he has seen a steady increase in the number of families experiencing food insecurity.
Though records may show a relatively low rate of unemployment, jobs in the service industry fail to provide sufficient income. This phenomenon creates a paradox where working individuals still face food insecurity, Foster said.
Although the county was ranked “low” in terms of need, the percentage of households with children that experience food insecurity received a ranking of “very high” by the report. The hunger issue in Boone County suffers from the unique presence of both rural and urban poverty, Gordon said.
“For most people, it’s a lack of adequate income, not having jobs that pay a living wage,” Foster said. “One woman who came in told me that she pays the rent one month and the power bill the next month.”
Included in the atlas are a number of recommendations on how to help fix the hunger problem in Missouri.
Due to the high poverty and hunger rates in north and southeast Missouri, the report recommended assessing hunger program effectiveness in that area. The atlas also recommended increasing awareness of both private and public programs that provide food assistance.
The Hunger Atlas includes data on both obesity and diabetes in Missouri, and the atlas also makes recommendations to encourage better nutrition for the hungry.
“One of the costs of hunger is that people who are ill for whatever reason, and are poor, have a much harder time recovering from illnesses or meeting the dietary restrictions of an illness because they don’t have the funds to have a proper diet,” Rikoon said.
Families who use food pantries are much more likely to face diabetes, or high cholesterol, or high blood pressure, Rikoon said.
“In the state, 8 percent of Missourians have diabetes,” Rikoon said. “Among the households that use food pantries, it’s close to 20 percent.”
There’s a combination of things that need to be done to stop the growth in bunger, and all of them relate back to the cause, Rikoon said.
Number one, there needs to be an increase in income, Rikoon said.
“People who are in minimum wage jobs, frankly, what they’re earning simply isn’t sufficient for having enough funds for the food that they need,” Rikoon said.
People also shouldn’t have to spend what income they have completely on clothing and utilities, medicine and healthcare. If people could have health insurance at a reasonable cost, then they would have more funds left over for food, Rikoon said.
“We need to make sure that the social safety net is strong,” Rikoon said.
Rikoon also said there needs to be better education on how to better use the limited funds people have.
“That kind of education for everyone in the state is important, but it becomes, perhaps, more important when you have limited resources that you use your money as wisely as possible,” Rikoon said.