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Bountiful crops in Valley yet stomachs empty
Report ranks area high for food insecurity
hunger 4
A local community member volunteers his time at the United Samaritans Foundation, an organization that provides daily meals for hundreds of Ceres and Turlock residents every day. - photo by Jaydeep Bhatia/The Courier

Despite being the breadbasket of America, many residents in the Central Valley remain hungry in what is a very ironic and unfortunate truth.

An estimated 67,000 of the area's residents in the Valley go hungry every day.

Last week, members of the California Department Food and Agriculture convened to discuss the issue of the hunger and food insecurity in the Valley.

Craig McNamara, president of the CDFA, led the meeting and stated the current situation for many residents of California's agricultural mecca is baffling.

"It's shocking that the most productive agricultural region in the United States also has one of the highest levels of food insecurity, said McNamara.

Last week's meeting comes in light of a UCLA study performed last year that found that 3.8 million individuals were food-insecure within California. This report also identified the Valley as having one of the highest rates of food insecurity within the state.
Rebeca Knodt, executive director of the Emergency Food Bank in Stockton, stated that the food bank she is responsible for serves about 200 to 300 people a day, and that a majority of these people are simply using the food bank because they don't make enough money.

"A lot of these people are families that are going through times," said Knodt. "A majority of these people are not actually homeless, they just don't make enough."

Knodt also stated the Emergency Food Bank is trying to incorporate fresh fruit and vegetables in their food boxes, in light of growing epidemics of childhood diabetes and obesity.

She said that when good food isn't available to eat, families resort to inexpensive and often poor quality food. Cheap food Knodt, says, "doesn't translate into healthy food."

"Families are torn to make a choice -- pay the bill or feed the kids."

The growing trend for the need of food is also apparent in Ceres. Barbara Bawanan, executive director of United Samaritans stated their own food trucks, a service that provides thousands of meals for residents of Ceres, has seen an increase in the amount of people looking for a meal.

According to a July survey done by the United Samaritans, 84 percent of those who took food from the trucks lived in homes. However, despite those living in homes, 90 percent of them were from extremely low-income homes.

"For some of these people, it's the only meal they will get," said Bawanan.

Bawanan also stated she has seen an increase in the number of seniors looking for food, many of whom are living with a monthly income that falls short of $800 a month.

The problems however, don't just stop there.

With dwindling federal grants from food banks, and a proposed farm bill that would cut food stamp programs, food bank officials are concerned that food banks won't be able to support those looking to fill their empty stomachs.

"The fact that we're third in the world in food production and we cannot feed our own people is just sad," said Knodt. "We need to do something about this or it's going to be catastrophic."

In light of these growing concerns, the state is looking at some possible solutions.

According to McNamara, state agencies are looking to double farm contributions to food banks by the year 2015, a number that estimates around 200 million pounds annually for food insecure families. He cited the Ag Against Hunger and Hidden Harvest programs as possible methods of overcoming such a massive problem.

"These programs are just the beginning and they do not count the individual efforts of farmers," said McNamara. "The great role of faith-based communities, and the work that local farm bureaus, farm organizations and communities are doing to address the issue."