Report: Number of hungry Missouri children drops from last year

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COLUMBIA - The annual United States Department of Agriculture report on household food security revealed an improvement in the number of Missourians struggling to get enough to eat, especially children.

The report found 15 percent of Missouri households experienced food insecurity at some point during 2015. That’s compared to 17 percent in 2014.

Communications manager for Feeding Missouri, Monica Palmer, said she’s excited to see a little bit of good news about hunger in Missouri.

“We still have a lot of hungry people, almost 400,000 households in Missouri are still food insecure, so we have more work to do, but we are very excited to see the positive trend,” Palmer said.

According to the USDA report, when a family is “food insecure", that means they have a difficult time getting enough to eat, or the right kinds of food to eat because they lack money or other resources.

The percentage of families that faced actual hunger, or “very low food security” also declined. In 2015, nearly 7 percent of Missourians missed meals or experienced hunger. In 2014, nearly 8 percent had very low food security. However, Missouri is still worse than the national average for “very low security”, which is 5.4 percent.

Palmer said this category is actually the worst category in the report because it means people are going without meals.

“Last year, we were number two in the nation for very low security in the nation. And this year, we’re number seven, so that’s a huge jump in the very low food security category,” Palmer said. “We’re improving, but we’re still not the best.”

Palmer said most of the time, families facing “very low food security” shield children from hunger. The adults will go without meals so the kids can eat. Still, the USDA reported there were about 274,000 households in 2015 in which children went hungry at some point during the year. Palmer said she isn’t surprised by the decline because the economy has been improving, but she thinks there are other reasons as well.

“Schools have been more aware of the issue, so they’ve been helping out a lot,” Palmer said.

Columbia Public Schools Nutrition Services Director Laina Fullum said she credits the National School Lunch Program and other programs for keeping more people from going hungry.  

“It helps families keep money in their pockets for other bills and not to have to worry about their children not eating at schools, and not having to worry about a bill,” Fullum said.

She said about 6,400 Columbia Public Schools students were on free or reduced lunches.  

September is Hunger Action Month and Palmer said taking action to reduce hunger in Missouri is key. Palmer wants to encourage people to start food drives, raise awareness and volunteer at local food banks.