APRIL 30, 2014

Hunger still crippling Arizona

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PHOENIX – Newly released Map the Meal Gap data again shows almost 1 in 5 Arizonans (17.8 percent), or 1.17 million people, struggled with food insecurity in 2012. More alarmingly, more than 1 in 4 Arizona children (28.2 percent – an estimated 456,760) also suffered from food insecurity in that same time period. While these figures are a decrease from the 2011 apex, when 19.1 percent of Arizonans and 29.9 percent of Arizona children struggled with food insecurity, they are still above 2009 food insecurity levels that spiked at the onset of the recession.

When a household suffers from food insecurity, it means they may lack access to or the ability to afford enough food to feed their household. Arizona’s struggles with food insecurity exceed national averages: nationwide, the food insecurity rate was 15.9 percent, which is 12 percent lower than Arizona’s rate, and 21.6 percent for children, which is 31 percent lower.

“Arizona children are suffering from food insecurity at a rate nearly a third higher than the national average. This makes it clear we are in a crisis,” said Angie Rodgers, Association of Arizona Food Banks president and CEO.  “Arizona’s food banks and safety net programs such as SNAP (Food Stamps) are part of the solution, but it will take concerted efforts from all sectors, including business, faith groups, community organizations and everyday citizens, to help make food insecurity a thing of the past in Arizona.”

Map the Meal Gap also provides estimates on the rate of food insecurity at the county level for the entire nation.  In Arizona, Maricopa County is one of fifteen counties nationwide with more than 100,000 insecure children, with 1 in 4 children (24.6 percent) suffering from food insecurity.  Research confirms children who do not get enough nutritious food each day perform poorer in school, have more behavioral issues and suffer from absenteeism far more often than children who are not food insecure.  Apache County had the highest rate of food insecurity at 25.7 percent, while Pinal County had the lowest rate at 15.3 percent.

In general, Map the Meal Gap food insecurity data helps show how many households struggle with hunger and poverty, and that they can be found in urban and rural communities throughout Arizona’s fifteen counties.  They are the households most impacted by the recession, un- and under-employment, low wages and lingering economic uncertainty.  An estimated 27 percent of Arizona households earn too much to qualify for SNAP (Food Stamp) benefits, yet struggle to afford enough food to put on the table on a daily basis.

The annual study measures the population affected by food insecurity and the factors that contribute to need in households across the country, including weekly food-budget shortfalls, demographics, poverty levels and unemployment rates.  Complete details and data, including interactive maps for Arizona and the entire country, can be found at www.feedingamerica.org/mapthegap and www.azfoodbanks.org

Established in 1984, the Association of Arizona Food Banks (AAFB) is a private, non-profit organization serving five-member regional food banks (Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, Desert Mission Food Bank, St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance, United Food Bank, Yuma Community Food Bank) and a network of nearly 1,600 food pantries and agencies. AAFB is one of the first state associations in the nation and an inaugural partner state association of Feeding America. AAFB was instrumental in the development of a statewide gleaning project, and our advocacy efforts have brought about beneficial state and federal legislation for our member food banks and the people they serve. For more information, to find a food bank or pantry in your area, or to learn more about donation and volunteer opportunities, please visit www.azfoodbanks.org.

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