Food insecurity facing nearly 1 million Missourians and increasing

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COLUMBIA - Missouri is facing a major problem when it comes to hunger in the state.

According to the 2016 Missouri Hunger Atlas, nearly one million Missourians face either food insecurity or worry about not having enough food within the last year.

This means that nearly one in six individuals in Missouri lack adequate access to food, with the most vulnerable being children and the elderly.

The MU Interdisciplinary Center for Food Security put together the report.

Graduate student Annie Cafer helped compile the information for the Atlas, and said the center expects those numbers to get worse before they get better.

“Missouri is dealing with an alarming increase in the most vulnerable in its population, and that’s the population that’s most food insecure with hunger,” said Cafer. “That means people are actually missing meals and reducing food intake. We have the single largest increase in that population than any other state. That’s a really alarming figure for those of us who work in this world.”

The Atlas, through a series of graphs and statistics, details the extent of food security in St. Louis and all 114 counties in Missouri. According to the Atlas, Boone County has 17.2 percent of individuals facing food uncertainty and 8.1 percent of individuals facing food uncertainty with hunger, both of which are ranked as high. The Atlas also finds that persistent poverty areas in southern Missouri seem to be the ones most affected.

Cafer said programs like the Meals on Wheels for seniors, the Buddy Pack program for children, and multiple food banks are helpful in addressing some of the food insecurity problems in Columbia.

Janese Silvey, Communications Director for The Food Bank for Central and Northeast Missouri, said reports like the Atlas are helpful in getting information out.

“I always think it’s helpful to have these studies coming out of MU,” Silvey said. “There are a number of these reports and it’s nice to have multiple researchers and sources sharing the same statistics and verifying that the statistics we use on a regular basis are reflective of the community.”

Although Silvey believes it’s important to increase awareness about food insecurity, she said the food bank does not have the resources to address the worsening food insecurity issues in Missouri. Currently the food bank distributes 30 million pounds a year in its 32 county service area. Boone County currently receives around six million pounds of food, which Silvey said just isn’t enough.

“It would take closer to 40 million. We just can’t do that in this operation. In Columbia the need is around 10 million,” Silvey said.

Monetary funds and food donations are the most helpful to the food bank, Silvey said. It allows the volunteers to save money and double their workforce.

Cafer said the center’s biggest hopes is that policy-makers use the information in the Atlas to make decisions to help alleviate poverty and food insecurity in Missouri.