Demand for the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County’s free food has risen 25 percent each year for the past two years.
To document and address the changing landscape of hunger locally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has given the Food Bank a $99,561 Hunger Free Communities Grant, one of 14 such grants nationwide. A portion of it is funding a comprehensive study by Cal Poly professors and students about who specifically goes hungry here and why.
“People in this county are surrounded day in, day out by produce, but that food is not going on their plate,” said Ann McDermott, director of Cal Poly’s STRIDE, a translational research center and a survey leader.
“We think that the rosy picture on hunger in San Luis Obispo County comes from the fact that those most in need have been undercounted in previous studies,” McDermott said.
Traditional census data is gathered by cellphone or land line — therefore skewed away from those who are most likely to be hungry.
According to the Food Bank, it served 40,000 separate people in 2010 — about 13,000 of them children. Moreover, the Food Bank’s actual outreach is wider because more than 200 additional agencies receive Food Bank donations to distribute to other recipients.
Cal Poly kinesiology graduate Christian Cardenas is one of 84 students and volunteers traversing the far reaches of the county to interview more than 600 people in locations where nonprofit administrators, priests and community leaders believe the hungry can be found: at charity distribution sites, discounted food retailers, doctor’s offices, churches, work sites and homeless shelters, among other spots.
Cardenas, who conducts interviews in English and Spanish, has so far noticed the high number of seniors who subsist on charity food disbursements, which means they might eat meat only twice a month; the homeless who eat only when they are in a shelter; and the sheer number of hungry families of four or more whose only income is one parent working a minimum-wage job with no benefits.
In the spring, Cal Poly nutrition professor Aydin Nazmi led a different study with 17 students to determine food affordability across the county. They surveyed 45 grocery and food stores, documenting the cost, quantity and availability of 97 food items commonly consumed on the Central Coast.
The results of both studies will be analyzed in coming months, and then the Food Bank, Cal Poly and other affiliated organizations will develop a coordinated response so they won’t be competing for the same grant monies.
“When you have limited resources, you have to know your facts, so you can inform policy,” McDermott said.
How you can help
The Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County started its Hope for the Holidays food and donation drive Tuesday. Visit www.slofoodbank.org or call 238-4664 to feed a family in need this holiday season.