Despite national numbers, mid-Missourians struggle to afford food

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COLUMBIA - A new Gallup poll out this week says the fewest number of Americans are struggling to afford food since the recession, but mid-Missouri's Central Pantry says it's serving 50 percent more people this year than in 2008.

Pantry Supervisor Sean Ross has worked at the pantry for 10 years and said he has seen more people coming in for food every year since 2008.

"From 08-09, there was about a 16 percent increase," Ross said. "And it's been a steady increase ever since then. Anywhere for 3 to 7 percent increase every year."

According to the poll, only a little over 17 percent of American adults say they've struggled to provide food for themselves or their families in the last 12 months. 2013 was actually the year with the most people saying they struggled to afford food, and that's why Ross thinks this year's number is so low.

"We're seeing a slight decrease, but mainly what we're seeing is a leveling off of last year, which were still record highs," Ross said. 

The new poll says the number of people struggling for food has decreased in every income level from those earning $90,000 or more, to those earning $24,000 or less. 

"The improvement across all income groups indicates that the economic recovery is not only reaching upper-income Americans, but it also seems to be benefiting those with lower incomes, at least when it comes to affording food," the poll states. 

"We see about 5,000 families every month," Ross said. "That's 12,000 to 13,000 people. It's a lot. It's 200 people a day."

The poll suggests a decrease in unemployment and lower gas prices could play a role in this decrease. Both give Americans more disposable income, which the poll said could be used to buy food. 

Ross said the number of Americans who can afford food is not really decreasing, and the only month the pantry did see fewer people, it was only a two percent decrease.

"We're seeing a leveling off, but that leveling off is at record levels of service," Ross said.