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Hunger Report: Demand Outstripping Supplies at Food Banks

PHOTO: A new report finds that one in seven Kentuckians relied on a food bank in the past year to help them put food in their pantry. Photo by Greg Stotelmyer.
PHOTO: A new report finds that one in seven Kentuckians relied on a food bank in the past year to help them put food in their pantry. Photo by Greg Stotelmyer.
December 5, 2014

LEXINGTON, Ky. - How hungry is Kentucky? A new report from Feeding America finds that more than 3.5 million food distributions were made this year to more than 209,000 Kentucky households. That's one in every seven Kentuckians turning to a food bank for help.

"We keep hearing that the Great Recession is over, but it's clear that the recovery has not reached hundreds of thousands of homes in Kentucky yet," said Tamara Sandberg, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Food Banks. "Food banks alone cannot solve the problem of hunger in Kentucky."

Kentucky's network of seven regional food banks and more than 800 charities, including food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters, distributed the equivalent of 50 million meals this year. Still, Sandberg said, the study found that the supply did not meet the demand at two out of every five food banks, or 39 percent.

Sandberg said that has a huge health impact because, according to the study, 91 percent of households purchased inexpensive, unhealthy food, 58 percent ate food past the expiration date and 37 percent watered down their food to make it stretch farther.

"They know it's unhealthy, they don't necessarily want to eat the unhealthy food," she said, "But, if you are faced with the choice of 'I can buy a 20-pack of ramen noodles for the same cost as two apples, I'm going to buy the ramen noodles to feed my family.' "

Mary Ellen Edison said the monthly food distribution she receives from United Ministries in northern Kentucky has saved her life.

"I'm better off all the way around," she said. "They're a God's blessing to me."

Edison said she receives a healthy balance of food, including fruits and vegetables.

Still, Sandberg said, the study shows how far the state has to go. Of the households that turned to food banks, 65 percent have at least one member with high blood pressure and 41 percent with diabetes.

"This is going to impact everybody in Kentucky long-term," she said, "if we continue to allow a significant population like this to experience these chronic illnesses because of the poor food choices they're being forced to make based on their economic circumstances."

The state did put $1.2 million in the current budget for the Farms to Food Banks Program, which provided more than 3 million pounds of Kentucky-grown produce to food banks this summer.

The study is online at kafb.org/hunger.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY