A new report published by Feeding America, the national hunger relief organization representing 194 food banks across the country describes a 27.2% increase in the estimated number of Long Island children experiencing food insecurity. The recent report entitled, Map the Meal Gap 2016: Child Food Insecurity in New York by County in 2014 reports that 40,360 children in Nassau and 48,670 in Suffolk face food insecurity by not having consistent access to nutritious food on a daily basis. According to the findings, approximately 51% of children in Nassau and 48% of children in Suffolk experiencing food insecurity are likely not income eligible for federal nutrition assistance programs, and as a result, they are at-risk for certain illnesses associated with domestic hunger including challenges to their physical, social, and educational development.
The Map the Meal Gap data that can help policymakers and service providers identify strategies to best reach those in need of assistance. One local service provider is Long Island Cares, Inc., The Harry Chapin Food Bank who recently reviewed the data for the Long Island Region and has applied the findings to our advocacy and social policy positions, as well as implementing new children’s nutrition services focused on children experiencing high food insecurity.
We’re not surprised by the increase in the number of children reported to be food insecure on Long Island. The Map the Meal Gap data describes a total of 89,030 children struggling with food insecurity throughout our region, and it represents an increase of 19,030 from the 70,000 children that were reported in Feeding America’s Hunger in America Study in 2013. Based upon the number of children the regional food bank directly serves we always believed that 70,000 was too low. On average, we assist 560 children monthly in our own pantries and have assisted 4,021 children through our Mobile School Pantry in the Brentwood School District since the start of the 2016 academic year. Our Kids Cafés and Backpack Programs alone support 1,200 children each month. Most recently, Long Island Cares launched two Mobile Breakfast Food Trucks that provide a free, nutritious and ready-to-eat breakfast for children at 13 different locations in high-need communities such as Wyandanch, Westbury, and Hempstead. Since launching the trucks in October 2015 we’ve been able to provide 3,750 children with breakfast at times when schools are closed.
Hunger is a significant health problem in America which relates to economics. If you’re a child in a family living above the poverty level and you struggle to earn a living wage on Long Island which clearly needs to be higher than $15.00 an hour, you’re forced to make decisions and prioritize how you spend your money; rent or food; healthcare or food; transportation or food. Our education system has taken a proactive approach towards addressing the nutrition needs of their students through the school meals program and by partnering with organizations such as Long Island Cares, but until the playing field is leveled and people can earn enough to live on Long Island which is estimated to be an average of $95,000 for a family of four, there will always be children facing hunger, and that should always be unacceptable.
For more information about Long Island Cares’ programs for children visit www.licares.org or call 631.582.FOOD.
This article initially appeared in the HIA-LI Reporter, August, 2016