The State of Hunger & Poverty

Whether you’ve experienced it yourself or simply brushed shoulders with someone who has, hunger has touched your life in some way. It is one of the widest-spread problems in the United States today, affecting every state. One in ten Americans is at-risk for hunger.1 At this rate, if hunger were a disease it would be considered an epidemic.
 At the root of hunger is poverty. Household economics prevent many people from being able to afford everything they need to care for themselves. They just don’t bring home a large enough paycheck, or are dealing with a personal crisis like loss of employment or illness.
 While many people equate hunger with  homelessness, the homeless are not the largest group of people who experience hunger. Sadly, the largest group is families with children. Dana Wolfe Naimark of the Arizona Children’s Action Alliance discusses an alarming trend: “The number one issue teachers named that prepared children for learning in kindergarten was coming to school healthy and well-nourished.”2 Of Arizona’s young families, an unprecedented 47% live below self-sufficiency.3
 On page two is a detailed report on the state of hunger and poverty in Arizona, with a focus on Pima County. This report has a special focus on the solutions CFB is offering to alleviate hunger in the area.
Hunger Statistics

  • According to 2004 statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 15.6% (153,080) of Pima County residents live at or below the Federal Poverty Level—$20,650 for a family of four (2007).4
  • The Association of Arizona Food Banks estimates that 48,407 of Pima County’s children live at or below the Federal Poverty Level.3
  • According to the most recent U. S. Census (2004) the median household income in Pima County is $38,687.4 A study by the National Center for Children in Poverty shows that families actually need double the Federal Poverty Level—$41,300 for a family of four—to be self-sufficient.5
  • In Arizona, 47% or about 406,489 families with children live below self-sufficiency.5
  • Of these families, 84% or 341,451 have at least one working parent.5
     

These statistics are reflected in the need for emergency food and other types of food assistance from the Community Food Bank.
 Hunger has many faces. There is no age or race of people in Southern Arizona that we don’t serve at the Community Food Bank. Every ZIP code is represented in our client list. When it comes to hunger, we have programs to fill a multitude of community needs.

Sources: 1. The United States Department of Agriculture 2. Arizona Children’s Action Alliance News 3. Association of Arizona Food Banks 4. U.S. Census Bureau 5. National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University. Complete list of sources (.PDF)

Community Food Bank Impact

  • On a daily basis, the Food Bank provides enough food for over 31,000 meals.
  • Over the course of a year, more than 381,893 individuals representing 30,898 families receive emergency food.
  • During the most recent fiscal year, CFB distributed 187,458 emergency food boxes through 77 agency partners.
  • A total of 14,507,100 pounds of food was distributed through all of CFB’s programs.

Who the Community Food Bank Serves

  • 40% are children!
  • During the summer of 2007, 25,467 lunches were served to children who, during the rest of the year, rely on school lunches for a nutritious meal.
  • 841 children receive CFB support at city recreation centers or at school through a weekend backpack program (Snak Paks for Kids®).
  • 12% of our clients are senior citizens.
  • 45% of our households represent the working poor.

The Food Chain
 Several steps take place before we can get  food into the hands of the people who need it. First the food is procured. Often it’s donated from one of our many local grocers, like Albertson’s, Bashas’ and Safeway. Food is also given by local distributors like Merit Foods of Arizona and Cisco Foods; CFB may pay the shipping. We receive shipments from produce shippers, greatly enhancing the nutritional value of the food we give away. Food also comes from manufacturers like ConAgra and Procter & Gambell through America’s Second Harvest. We pick up food from local retailers like Target, Big Lots and Sam’s Club. Food brokers and dining services ensure that CFB receives prepared foods, as well. Food drives are a major source of donated food; local businesses will host them, as well as organizations like the National Association of Letter Carriers. Food also comes from the USDA.
 

Food that is not donated has to be purchased, our last choice for procuring food. When we run short, food is ordered in conjunction with the Value Foods Store to ensure that we are purchasing it in the most cost-effective way. Cost is a big concern with the food bank, but we want to purchase high quality food.

Food to the People
 Just as we partner with numerous organizations and entities to procure the food, we do the same to ensure that it gets to the people who need it. CFB has distribution sites all over Tucson and Pima County. In an effort to better serve those in need, we partner with human services agencies in as many areas as possible. This ensures that people can find help close to home. Most people never even know the food they are eating comes from the Community Food Bank.

Hunger Prevention
 In addition to distributing food, CFB has a focus on helping its clients toward self-sufficiency. To that end, the Community Food Security Center focuses on education and advocacy. Food Stamp and food assistance programs, household economics education, home gardening assistance, farmers’ markets, and several of the food distribution programs listed all help lead people toward a food-secure future. Furthermore, the Community Food Security Center focuses much of its effort on helping people understand the importance of healthy food in their diet. Increasingly the center finds itself addressing an alarming trend—hunger and its link to poor nutrition and obesity.

The Link Between Hunger and Obesity
 The link between quality food, exercise and a healthy weight is irrefutable. People have long understood that a balanced diet and plenty of physical activity is key to avoiding obesity and the accompanying health issues.
 Recently, the correlation between poverty and obesity has come to the forefront. “State health officials say they’ve always suspected the chance of Arizonans being overweight is directly linked to where they live and the value of their homes. Now they have proof,” said Howard Fischer in an article for the Arizona Daily Star.1 Fischer bases his story on a new study published by the University of Washington. Findings indicate that high obesity rates are directly correlated with low property values. In the Seattle area (where the study took place), obesity rates were as high as 30% in areas with low property values, but were just 5% in affluent neighborhoods.
 

CFB president and CEO Bill Carnegie was not surprised by the findings. “Low income people stretch their dollars by buying foods high in carbohydrates. The right things are just too expensive,” said Carnegie. High quality foods like fresh fruits and vegetables are cost prohibitive for people with a limited food budget. Many family food budgets simply do not allow for these choices, regardless of the consequences.
 

According to a policy brief on obesity published
by the Center for the Advancement of Health, overweight Americans are more susceptible to life-threatening diseases. A sedentary lifestyle and poor diet, both of which are common among the overweight, are in second and third place (behind smoking) as preventable causes of death.2

Sources: 1. Arizona Daily Star 2. Center for the Advancement of Health
Complete list of sources (.PDF)

Arizona Fights Childhood Obesity
 For years we have been taking a critical look at what we feed children in this country. Every parent knows that children, given the choice between cookies and carrot sticks as a snack, are not going to choose the healthy alternative. At home parents are responsible for ensuring the health of their children’s diets, but what about when they are under someone else’s care? It turns out that many of our schools, which should be an ally to parents in caring for children, are allowing kids free reign over their food choices during the day.
 

“Children’s easy access to unhealthy foods at school, as well as in their communities, has contributed to climbing rates of childhood obesity,” says a study conducted by Samuels & Associates.1 The situation arose when schools began introducing for-profit food sales (competitive foods) at school, in addition to the federally regulated school lunch program. The purpose is for the schools to earn money for essential programs. The result is new text books, funding for the arts and band uniforms, but the side effect is tragic. Competitive foods are generally inexpensive, low in quality and high in fat. They are contributing, in a very significant way, to the declining health of this nation’s children.
 

Samuels & Associates’ study was conducted in 40 California public secondary schools. It found that students favored chips, at over 30 percent, and candy, at 22 percent. According to Samuels & Associates, “Statistical analysis of pricing found that higher fat and sugar items tended to have lower prices.” Out of all foods sold, over half (55 percent) had fat contents that were considered unhealthy.1
 

In a 2001 report to Congress, Shirley R. Watkins, undersecretary of Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, emphasizes a growing problem, “The availability of foods sold in competition with school meals jeopardizes the nutritional effectiveness of the programs and may be a contributor to the trend of unhealthy eating practices among children and subsequent health risks.”2
 

The good news is that states have the power to regulate competitive foods. Arizona’s statute 15-242 took effect in the summer of 2006 and bans unhealthy foods from K-8 schools during the normal school day, forcing schools to follow Arizona Nutrition Standards. This includes the school lunch programs, vending machines, snack bars and all other areas where competitive foods are sold. Tom Horne, superintendent of public instruction with the Arizona Department of Education, takes the stance that “Schools should support the choice of most parents, that their child eats healthy and shall not undermine parental choice by promoting sugar and fat in schools.”3 Unfortunately, high schools (grades 9-12) are not covered by the law. The prevailing opinion is that eliminating competitive foods at these schools would result in too much revenue loss.

Sources: 1. Samuels & Associates 2. United States Department of Agriculture
3. Arizona Department of Education
Complete list of sources (.PDF)