Monday, May 2, 2011

'Food Insecurity' in Virginia Highest Here

More than 15 percent of residents in Southwest Virginia are what's known as "food insecure," people who don't have enough to eat, representing the highest level in Virginia. That is according to a new study, "Map the Meal Gap," conducted by Feeding America Southwest Virginia and Feeding America, the nation's largest domestic hunger-relief organization.

The study found that 177,480 people in Feeding America Southwest Virginia's 26-county, 10-municipality region - 15.4 percent - go without food because of a lack of money. The report, released just before Feeding America Southwest Virginia's 30th anniversary fundraising gala on May 10, is the first detailed look at the food budget needed by families struggling with hunger in the region each year - an average meal cost of $2.54 per person.

"So often we talk in terms of how many meals or pounds of food we provide, and we certainly are proud to have distributed 14 million pounds of food last year, but to know the actual need and where we should be as a community is simply staggering," says Pamela Irvine, President and CEO of Feeding America Southwest Virginia.

According to the "Map the Meal Gap" study, nearly half of the food insecure in the region are from working families who are not eligible for supplemental nutrition assistance programs such as SNAP food stamps.

Those who do not qualify for federal nutrition programs often must rely on charitable food assistance programs and need better wages and employment opportunities to help them meet their basic needs.

The study takes a look at meals in a whole new way, using county-level data on food costs from The Nielsen Company to break down the food budget shortfall of residents into an approximation of the meals missing from the tables of people at risk of hunger in southwest Virginia each year.

Although "Map the Meal Gap" showed that the region's food costs are average with the nation as a whole, food insecurity is the highest in Virginia. "What this tells us is that there are a lot of hard-working people, with jobs, who simply can't make ends meet enough to put food on the table consistently," Irvine says.

In a departure from the standard of measuring meals in pounds, "Map the Meal Gap" estimates the relative cost of a meal that food secure people usually spend according to food prices in each county.

Feeding America Southwest Virginia is hosting a black tie-optional fundraising dinner in commemoration of its 30th anniversary. The event on Tuesday, May 10, features Vicki Escarra, President and CEO of Feeding America and musical performances by David Stewart Wiley, music director and conductor of Roanoke Symphony Orchestra.

The event, at the Roanoke Sheraton Hotel and Conference Center, begins May 10 with a reception at 6 p.m. followed by dinner and program at 7 p.m. Cost is $75 per person or $125 per couple. Reservations must be received by May 6 and can be made by calling 540-342-3011.

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