In the state of Iowa, over 300,000 people are struggling with hunger — and over 100,000 of them are children.
Food insecurity is a nationwide issue, as over 37 million Americans lack consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. According to Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, rural communities often face higher rates of hunger, making up 78% of the nation’s most affected counties.
Levels of security
The United States Department of Agriculture has done studies into the levels of food insecurity and the way it can impact an individual. Food insecurity may be closely related to poverty but people living above the poverty line can and have been affected.
Food insecurity can be broken down into four levels: high food security, marginal food security, low food security and very low food security.
High food security is where households had consistent access to adequate food. The topic doesn’t just account for access but overall quality of the food as well. Marginal food security is where households had occasional anxiety about accessing adequate food but the quality, variety and quantity of their food was not substantially reduced.
Low food secure households reduced the quality, variety and desirability of their diets in order to not substantially disrupt the quantity of food intake or normal eating patterns. Finally, there are very low food secure families, where at times during the year, eating patterns of one or more household members were disrupted and food intake reduced because the household lacked money or other resources to acquire food.
Impact on children
Food insecure children, especially at the younger developmental stages of life, have a higher risk of health conditions such as anemia and asthma. Malnutrition has been shown to impact physical growth and even stunt intellectual capacity.
Studies by the American Psychological Association have indicated that children afflicted by hunger test lower and have more social and behavioral problems than children with a healthy, sufficient diet.
Jane Shantz, success coordinator at Creston Elementary, said the school has been surveying the matter to see the level of risk in the community but the results didn’t provide much information.
“It’s hard to identify who is hungry and who isn’t,” said Shantz. “When we did a survey, it wasn’t overly helpful. It felt like the people who needed to fill it out didn’t. It was on the computer so it was very anonymous.”
Stigmas around food insecurity are real concerns for families. While it is true that poverty and food insecurity are not necessarily related, the negative connotations exist and can prevent people from seeking help.
Shantz said that food security is also not necessarily a reflection of parenting and that someone doesn’t need to be starving in order to be food insecure.
“We have so many working families doing the very best they can,” said Shantz. “Are their kids starving? Probably not. But are their moms and dads always able to make a home cooked meal? No, because they are working all the time and it can be hard to get to the store and get fresh things.”
Taking it home
Food pantries and food banks have become commonplace to combat food insecurity. When asked about the importance of these institutions, Mark O’Riley of the Creston Area Food Pantry gave a simple answer.
“We’re important because we feed hungry people,” said O’Riley.
O’Riley said the pantry is well utilized. In the month of December, the Creston Area Food Pantry served 588 families.
“We will need to build on to accommodate the people who come to see us,” said O’Riley. “Right now we are trying to figure out ways to get grants, it’s going to be about $70,000.”
Area schools have been instituting various meal and take-home snack programs for the students. Recently, O’Riley has been working with the Creston School District to provide meal bags to children in need.
“We started it this year so it’s still new,” said Shantz. “Mark O’Riley said he wanted to start providing food for the kids.”
O’Riley delivers bags containing things such as cereal, juice, canned spaghetti, Compleats microwave meals and granola bars. The meal bags are then distributed to the students who need them every Friday. Shantz said that students can arrange to receive the bags in a confidential manner.
“In middle school, you’re kind of cool and a little more careful,” said Shantz. “So I’m not always sure that all the kids that need food are getting the bags.”