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KAFB: One in seven Kentuckians receives assistance from a food bank each year

 

Special to Kentucky Agricultural News

 

One in seven Kentuckians, or more than 600,000 people, stand in the state’s emergency food lines each year, according to a new study released by the Kentucky Association of Food Banks. Kentucky data from Feeding America’s Hunger in America 2014 report, available once every four years, was the subject of an event at the Life Learning Center in Covington that included state and local hunger and poverty advocates.

 

“The Hunger in Kentucky 2014 study reveals alarming data about the reality that many Kentuckians face,” said Tamara Sandberg, executive director of the association. “It is clear that recovery from the Great Recession has not yet reached the hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians who remain food insecure.”

Some of the key findings of the study are the following:

  • Each year, an estimated 611,100 individuals, or 209,300 households, receive food assistance through Kentucky’s emergency food network.
  • Food bank clients are reached through food distributions 3,560,000 times each year.
  • In the past year, 91 percent of households purchased inexpensive, unhealthy food as a coping strategy.
  • Sixty-seven percent had to choose between paying for food and utilities.

 

Demographic makeup of households served

Of the 611,100 Kentuckians served by the food bank network each year, 75 percent of client households have incomes that fall at or below the federal poverty level. The median annual income of households served is $9,150. Twenty-eight percent of individuals served are children and 20 percent are seniors age 60 or older. Sixteen percent of client households include grandparents who have responsibility for grandchildren who live with them. Fifty-three percent of clients are female and 47 percent are male.

In addition:

  • Thirty-five percent of households have a member who had worked for pay in the last 12 months. Of those households, 30 percent had worked 20 hours per week or less.
  • Nearly 33 percent of all households have a member with at least some education beyond high school.
  • Ninety-six percent of households live in nontemporary housing, such as a house or apartment.

 

Coping strategies and long-term health implications

The study reveals that purchasing inexpensive, unhealthy foods or even watering down food and drinks are common strategies – strategies that directly impact health and nutrition.

Specifically, the study found that in an effort to make ends meet, Kentuckians have used the following coping strategies in the past year:

  • Ninety-one percent purchased inexpensive, unhealthy food.
  • Sixty-one percent purchased food in dented or damaged packages.
  • Fifty-eight percent ate food past the expiration date.
  • Fifty-one percent received help from family and friends.
  • Forty percent sold or pawned personal property.
  • Thirty-seven percent watered down food to make it stretch farther.
  • Eighty-three percent of households reported using more than one of these strategies in the past twelve months.

 

In addition, Kentucky households are forced to make tough decisions regarding spending tradeoffs due to tight budgets. In the past year, Kentuckians have had to choose between the following:

  • Sixty-nine percent had to choose between food and medicine or medical care.
  • Sixty-seven percent had to choose between food and utilities.
  • Sixty-three percent had to choose between food and transportation.
  • Fifty-one percent had to choose between food and rent or mortgage.


The study reveals that the coping strategies and spending tradeoffs have a lasting impact on household health status. In the past year:

  • Thirty-two percent of households have at least one member who is in poor health.
  • Sixty-five percent have at least one member with high blood pressure.
  • Forty-one percent have at least one member with diabetes.
  • Sixty-four percent have unpaid medical bills.


“A hunger-free Kentucky is possible, but this study confirms that food banks can’t do it alone,” said Sandberg. “We are no longer just an emergency food network – our clients are facing chronic needs. Solving hunger in Kentucky will require strengthened partnerships within both public and private sectors. That’s why we are so grateful for the state appropriation for hunger relief in the current state budget.”

Included in the 2015-16 state budget is $1.2 million for the Farms to Food Banks program, which increases access to healthful fresh produce among struggling Kentucky families while providing an expanded market for Kentucky farmers. As a result of the funding, over 3 million pounds of Kentucky-grown produce has been distributed through food banks so far in 2014.

“The Hunger in Kentucky 2014 findings should be a call to action for everyone,” said Sandberg. “The study demonstrates the urgent need for all of us as individuals, policymakers and industry leaders to address hunger in our communities. Together we can solve hunger in Kentucky.”

Hunger in Kentucky 2014 is part of the quadrennial Hunger in America series, the most comprehensive examination of hunger in the United States. Study results are based on nationally representative surveys of agencies that operate food programs in the charitable food assistance network supported by Feeding America and of clients that access services through that network. The study was peer-reviewed by a technical advisory team including researchers from American University, University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and the Urban Institute. The Hunger in Kentucky 2014 report is available at kafb.org/hunger.