Children in SLO County experienced hunger at a higher rate than adults did in 2020, according to the SLO Food Bank.
At the start of last year, approximately 46,000 residents in the county were struggling with food insecurity.
- File Photo By Jayson Mellom
- HUNGRY The SLO Food Bank reported an increase in program participation and food insecurity among children in SLO County during 2020.
Once the pandemic's impacts were felt locally, the SLO Food Bank found that hunger in the county increased by 154 percent, with children accounting for about a third of those using the food bank's services. About 40 percent of the food bank's recipients are children and teens, 20 percent are seniors, and many are working parents.
SLO Food Bank Director of Programs Andrea Keisler told New Times that 2020 was unlike any other year and the data that tells that local story is just now catching up.
The food bank recently compiled information from its own programs and found that it distributed more than 5 million pounds of food, up from 3.3 million distributed in 2019. The largest increase in pounds was distributed through its 80-plus nonprofit member agencies, but Keisler said the food bank saw a significant increase in participation at its 60 food distribution locations.
The food distribution sites and the food bank's agency partners serve individuals of all ages and families.
Keisler said the organization works with a large network of schools, after-school programs, and summer programs that host the food bank's Children's Farmers' Markets.
"At the beginning of 2020 these 19 sites were providing fresh produce to 1,300 kids and their families each month. Once school sites had to shut down in March we quickly pivoted and secured funding to extend our normally summer-only Breakfast Bag program through the end of the school year," she said.
At the end of the school year, the food bank distributed 5,600 Breakfast Bags which translates to 118,000 meals for kids.
"Along with the SLO Food Bank's programs, there have been some pretty incredible efforts on the part of our local school districts to continue to provide meals to children while school has been remote," Keisler said.
In an effort to support local school districts, the food bank coordinated deliveries of food boxes to school meal sites through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmers to Families Food Box program to support families struggling with food insecurity during the public health crisis.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food insecurity means that at times during the year, households are uncertain of having or unable to acquire enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food.
SLO County isn't the only region where families with children are experiencing food insecurity. According to Nourish California, a nonprofit advocacy group, recent data from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) says it reached 3.7 million California residents, or 10 percent of the state population, during the 2019 fiscal year. More than 66 percent of SNAP participants are families with children. Δ