by Nina Douglass, South Bay Food Pantry Volunteer
When asked what inspired her to found the South Bay Food Pantry, FUUSD member Maureen McNair has recalled noticing signs of insufficient access to nutritious food among the elementary school children she taught in that neighborhood. Maureen’s recognition that chronic food insecurity in the South Bay is pervasive led her to address the problem through the creation of the pantry.
While in my role as a social worker and a pantry volunteer I have also worked with families impacted by the lack of nutritious food, my class privilege, education, good health, and family connections protected me from food insecurity and made it unlikely that I will personally experience it. What is it like for some of our South Bay neighbors, friends, and fellow church members, to be deprived of such a basic necessity as food? What are its impacts? This blog entry will share some of what I am learning.
As of March 2021, according to the San Diego Hunger Coalition, approximately one in three San Diegans experienced nutrition insecurity - the inability to obtain three nutritious meals per day for themselves and/or their families. Of those facing nutrition insecurity, 72% were already struggling to meet their needs before the COVID-19 pandemic, while 28% were newly nutrition insecure in 2020.
In the South Bay, 36.5 percent of households (more than 145,000 residents) have incomes less than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, and more than half of adults with incomes under that level are unable to afford to purchase enough food. People with “Low Food Security” cover their meals by eating lower quality foods, while those with “Very Low Food Security” miss meals and experience hunger. Many households that experience food insecurity do not qualify for federal nutrition programs and must rely on their local food banks and pantries like ours for support.
Nutrition insecurity disproportionately impacts those who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). In 2019, 25% of the population in San Diego County were nutrition insecure, while 44% of the Black population and 37% of the Indigenous population were nutrition insecure. In the South Bay, Hispanic and Black residents combined comprise over three times the population of non-Hispanic Whites. (Source: SANDAG, Current Estimates, www.sandag.org)
A June 11, 2021 Washington Post article, Food security isn’t enough. Anti-hunger experts say the focus should be on nutrition security, notes that “Though food insecurity is closely related to poverty, not all people living below the poverty line experience food insecurity; however, some people living above the poverty line can experience food insecurity.” The article quotes Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University: “What we’ve learned over the last 25 years is that nutrition is the most powerful determinant of health for everyone. In the U.S., we estimate that 45 percent of deaths from heart disease, stroke or diabetes are linked to poor diet.”
Households with children are more likely to experience food insecurity, with particularly serious ramifications for young people’s developing bodies and brains. According to Feeding America, children suffering from hunger may struggle to concentrate in class, fall behind academically, be more likely to miss school due to illness, and suffer from irritability, low self-esteem, or a lack of energy. Shame and stigma about the family’s insufficient income may cause a child to hide the problem from others. Some signs of possible inadequate nutrition include when children ask about food often and aren’t picky about what they eat, they may suddenly lose or gain weight without a change in their activity level, or they may hoard food. Hungry children may display aggression or act out with impulsivity or hyperactivity. In addition, a 2019 study found that children living in a food insecure environment may be at greater risk of obesity.
Many South Bay residents have faced new challenges with the onset of the pandemic, which has brought increased exposure of “essential workers” to health risks, unemployment and financial insecurity, as well as increased costs of essentials such as gas, housing and food. Since it opened, the South Bay Food Pantry has had to accommodate a significant increase in the need for assistance from the community: serving an average of 235 households and over 1,000 individuals per week in 2022, up from ~120 households in 2020 and ~150 in 2021.
The generosity of FUUSD and those who donate and pledge to support the South Bay Food Pantry has made it possible for us to continue to help meet the nutritional needs of our South Bay community. Many who come to our site for support have expressed profound appreciation. We will continue to make this service be our prayer.
The First UU Church of San Diego blog is your resource for upcoming events and past event recaps. Leave us a comment to let us know what you think!