Marin Independent Journal: Hunger Persists in Marin County

September 1, 2016

Despite an array of government and nonprofit programs aimed at curbing hunger in Marin, many residents in the county are still missing meals.

That was the point driven home Thursday when local government and nonprofit employees focused on feeding the hungry in Marin assembled at the Four Points Sheraton hotel in San Rafael to share information.

Participants included representatives from the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, St. Vincent de Paul Society of Marin, Extra, Marin Community Clinics, Agricultural Institute of Marin, San Geronimo Valley Community Center, Good Earth Natural Foods and Marin City Community Services District. The meeting was convened by First 5 Marin.

“Food insecurity is a major issue here in Marin,” said Grant Colfax, director of the county health and human services department. “We have this paradox where we’re such a wealthy county, food is part of our culture, and yet we have serious problems if you just dig below the surface a bit.”

One in five Marin residents is “food insecure,” Colfax said. “A quarter of our children are eligible for school meal assistance. And one in three older adults are at high nutrition risk.”

Becky Gershon, policy and advocacy coordinator for the San Francisco-Marin Food bank, elaborated on those numbers. According to a report that the food bank prepares annually, Marin’s poorest residents missed an estimated 11 million meals in 2014, despite that government assistance provided 9.2 million meals and Marin nonprofits supplied 5.7 million meals.

Gershon said Marin could be accessing an additional $21.6 million annually in federal food aid if the county could get all of the people who are eligible signed up for CalFresh, formerly known as food stamps.

Sheila Kopf, the food bank’s program director, said the food bank has doubled its distribution of food in Marin since the advent of the Great Recession. Through its 47 weekly food pantries, the food bank is delivering 14,500 meals per day in Marin to some 18,000 people each week, which amounts to 6.4 million pounds per year, Kopf said.

Miguel Villarreal, food and nutritional services director for the Novato Unified School District, said 31 percent of the students in his district, some 2,600 kids, qualify for school meal assistance, up from 11 percent or 1,600 kids in 2002.

Villarreal said he regularly gets letters from parents who say they can’t afford school lunches for their children even though they don’t qualify for assistance.

“We do have many families who earn above the poverty level but live way below cost of living standards for this area,” Villarreal said.

Rita Kessler, a representative of San Rafael City Schools, said six out of 10 students in her district qualify for school meal assistance. Kessler said San Rafael City Schools operated a summer lunch program for students this year and has added a supper program that serves 700 meals a day.

Terri Green, project director at the Marin City Community Services District, said the food bank operates three food pantries in Marin City.

“But it is definitely not enough,” said Green, who lamented the fact that the Marin City community lacks its own grocery store.

This summer Green served as site director for a summer meals program that fed more than 100 kids each day.

“I’ve never seen so many kids wanting seconds in all of my life; our children are hungry,” Green said. “We can’t be silent on these issues. We have to speak out on behalf of the poor and needy.”

Suzanne Sadowsky, associate director of San Geronimo Valley Community Center, said, “Things have changed. People who were formerly middle class are no longer in that situation. The cost of housing, the cost of medical care, the cost of heating your home has really put a tremendous strain on so many families.”

Sadowsky noted that federal eligibility requirements for food assistance fail to take into account differentials in housing costs.

“So if you’re at the poverty level in a state like Mississippi,” she said, “it is a very different story than being at even 200 percent of the poverty level in Marin County where families are being displaced from their homes day after day because of higher rental costs.”

Christine Paquette, executive director of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Marin County, said in addition to serving about 200,000 meals last year, her organization advised more than 2,600 Marin residents as part of its homelessness prevention program.

“When we see these high rent increases, we get people calling us saying, ‘I’m not going to make my rent this month,’” Paquette said. “A lot of these folks have never needed help before.”

Article originally published by the Marin Independent Journal, September 1st, 2016
Written by Richard Halstead

View the original article here.