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Map the Meal Gap report looks at hunger numbers

The Camp Verde Journal of Camp Verde, Arizona

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The Association of Arizona Food Banks recently released a Feeding America report revealing food insecurity statistics for Arizona broken down by county and district, called Map the Meal Gap.

Food insecurity, according to Harvey Grady, president and CEO of Cornucopia Community Advocates, is the inability to stably provide food for an individual or family, usually noted by those living paycheck to paycheck who are unable to deal with an emergency financially should one arise. Roughly half of the state's population, Grady said, falls into this category.

Information was gathered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available.

The overall rate for Arizona food insecurity in 2013 compared to 2012 dropped slightly from 17.8 percent to 17.5 percent. Child food insecurity rates also dropped slightly, from 28.2 percent to 28 percent. The report states the national overall rate is 15.8 percent.

Child food insecurity is higher than overall security in each county and district report.

"The child food insecurity rates are higher because the kids are dependent on the adults in their lives. A lot of times, families with a large number of kids have parents working multiple jobs to survive. The income levels are not high enough for them to survive. If it's an independent adult, he or she can usually get out, get to congregate meals, you can get to food banks," said Amy Aossey, executive director of the Yavapai Food Council and head of the Yavapai Food Neighbors program.

In the report, U.S. House of Representatives Arizona District 1, which includes Sedona and Camp Verde and is represented by Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, had the highest overall rate of food insecurity among nine districts at 20.3 percent. District 4, which includes Cottonwood and other parts of the Verde Valley and is represented by Republican Rep. Paul Gosar, had an overall food insecurity rate of 18.9 percent. The child food insecurity rate for the districts was 32.5 percent [2nd] and 30 percent [3rd], respectively.

However, when broken down by county, the report concludes that Apache County by far had the largest rate of child food insecurity at 43 percent and an overall rate of 28.2 percent.

"The poverty [on reservations] is incredible," Grady said in reference to the Apache statistic. "Jobs are scarce and the economy there has been weak traditionally."

Grady said that the tribes rely heavily on federal money for aid, which is then dispersed by the tribal councils.

Coconino County had an overall rate of 20.1 percent and Yavapai County had an overall rate of 17.8 percent. The lowest overall rate by county was Greenlee, with 14.4 percent.

Aossey said that demographically there is no significant part of the counties' communities represented in these hunger rates.

"Our studies show it all over the map," Aossey said.

"Daily, too many Arizona families continue to struggle to put food on their plates, something most of us take for granted," Angie Rodgers, AAFB president and CEO, said in the report. "These numbers confirm what our food banks see every day. Demand remains high amidst a slow and incomplete economic recovery where too many are without enough work or wages to provide for their family's basic needs."

Grady said that one reason Yavapai County has struggled is that it's comprised of mostly rural communities. These communities are often slower to return to prosperity than more industrialized areas like Phoenix or Flagstaff.

In addition, Grady said per capita income continues to decline as food prices rise.

"What we're seeing is a trend that isn't.going to go away quickly. It's likely to continue," Grady said. "It's likely to keep increasing. It hasn't decreased since 2008."

One challenge for the emergency food providers in stemming this problem is knowing where to go.

"Communities keep their food banks low key and hard to find," Grady said. "A community like Sedona that attracts tourists doesn't Want a very prominent food bank; they don't want to advertise that side. So the way you find out about a food bank is you see one sandwich sign on the comer ... and if you happen to be there on Wednesday it will lead you up the hill to a church that has no food bank sign on it."

The Yavapai Food Council has created an online directory of food banks and pantries in the county to help mitigate this. Information is also posted at libraries and other public areas.

Grady added that community involvement is the only way these charities can continue to operate.

"The emergency food providers — food banks and pantries, hot meal programs like Meals on Wheels and others at senior centers — are largely volunteers," Grady said. "They provide a necessary service."

One way the Yavapai Food Council is trying to lower child hunger is by getting food to rural schools without commercial kitchens. Aossey said that 19 schools in the area do not have commercial kitchens and that, based on Arizona Department of Education statistics, some of those schools have eligible students for free and reduced priced meals at a rate of 90 percent.

"If kids don't have food for breakfast and they go to school and there's no food available at school, they go all the way to dinner with no access to food," Aossey said.

The council delivers meals through its brown bag program.

To view statistics for the entire U.S., visit the Feeding America, Map the Meal Gap website.

"What we're seeing is a trend that isn't going to go away quickly. It's likely to continue."

Harvey Grady

President and CEO of Cornucopia Community Advocates

Copyright 2015 The Camp Verde Journal, Camp Verde, Arizona. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: April 22, 2015

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