Closing out a historic fiscal year at The Foodbank

Closing out a historic fiscal year at The Foodbank

Amidst the ongoing recovery from the 2019 tornado outbreak and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Foodbank distributed more food than ever before

By: Emily Gallion, Grant and Advocacy Manager, and Caitlyn McIntosh, Development Manager

Despite an unusually challenging year, The Foodbank was able to distribute 17,884,642 pounds of food in our 2020 fiscal year, which ran from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020.

Over one third of the food distributed by weight was fresh produce. With it, we were able to provide food to 116 partner agencies in our three-county network and serve a total of 935,404 people.

It’s hard to believe over a year has passed since the 2019 Memorial Day tornado outbreak. The storm left over $1 billion in property damage and at least 1,800 without homes. While the disaster struck a month before the beginning of the fiscal year, recovery has been slow, and the destruction is still visible in many parts of our community. Read about our tornado relief response here.

It’s even harder to believe that just one year after the storm, our community would be living through a mass shooting and a pandemic. It has been a challenging year,  but we are honored to have been able to serve our community through it.

Here are some highlights from the past year at The Foodbank:

Drive Thru fills critical gaps in COVID-19 response

A line of cars forms outside The Foodbank’s Drive Thru Food Pantry on a rainy distribution day.

Our on-site drive thru was built in 2018 as an accessible distribution site for our Senior Box Program. While we saw potential in the drive-thru to expand our distribution capabilities, we didn’t know just how critical it would be in our disaster relief efforts.

Early March was an extremely difficult time for us at The Foodbank. The spread of COVID-19 and mandatory social distancing measures forced us to rethink nearly every aspect of our operations.

We typically host Mobile Farmers Markets at 27 different sites each month, but the high attendance at these events makes social distancing difficult to enforce. Sadly, we had to suspend these distributions for nearly three months.

Additionally, we could no longer visit our 18 Senior Box distribution sites due to safety precautions at the living facilities. With all of these operations canceled, we were left with one way to get food out of the building and onto the tables of our community — our on-site Drive Thru Food Pantry.

Immediately, we saw attendance rates spike to levels we have never seen before. Before the pandemic began, our Drive Thru was averaging about 200-300 households per distribution. That number skyrocketed to 600-700 households per day, peaking at a record breaking 750 households on April 22nd.

This was an incredible year for the Drive Thru, which served a total of 37,249 households and distributed 3,467,113 pounds of food. It is an essential service that aids in our confidence that Miami Valley residents can always turn to us no matter the circumstance.

 

Mobile Farmers Markets distribute record-high number of meals despite COVID-related cancellations

Like nearly all aspects of our operations, our Mobile Farmers Market program was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We were forced to temporarily suspend our Mobile Farmers Markets March 12 to limit the spread of the virus.

After developing a plan to enforce social distancing, which included additional staffing to keep our families six feet apart, we were able to reopen on a limited basis starting in June.

After carefully evaluating each Mobile site to ensure our ability to enforce social distancing and reach all areas in our territory, we selected 11 sites to reopen first. We are continuing to evaluate the course of the pandemic as well as food insecurity projections in our area to determine our next courses of action.

While our almost three-month closure certainly affected our metrics, this has still been a very successful year for our Mobile Farmers Market program. Through this program alone, we were able to distribute a total of 1,848,453.7 pounds of food to families in our three-county service area — an increase of 73,990.5 pounds from the previous year!

We would like to thank our generous donors and volunteers for supporting our work in the past year. Last year, a total of 5,414 volunteers spent 13,600 hours with us. We couldn’t do it without your help! Follow our social media accounts @thefoodbankinc for future announcements on volunteer opportunities. While we are still not allowing volunteers on-site due to the severity of the pandemic, we hope to see you all soon.

It has been a record breaking year here at The Foodbank and we are hopeful for what the future holds. This year has challenged us in ways we never thought possible and proven our true resiliency as a team and a community. If you want to read more about our service area, hunger statistics, or our economic impact, visit our Tri-County Impact Statement on our website.


For older adults, hunger hides in plain sight

For older adults, hunger hides in plain sight

Poverty, mobility challenges, and health expenses contribute to food insecurity among seniors. Here’s how federal programs and The Foodbank help out.

By: Caitlyn McIntosh, Development Manager and Emily Gallion, Grants & Advocacy Manager

Many of us already know that older adults are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill or dying from COVID-19. But the pandemic isn’t the only health crisis impacting older adults.

While Americans may not think of hunger as an issue that affects our seniors, they face higher rates of food insecurity than the general population. In Ohio, over one in ten seniors struggle with food insecurity.

This is of particular concern in the era of COVID-19. As we mentioned in a previous blog post, the availability and affordability of food can impact nearly every aspect of an individual’s health. The pandemic has disrupted senior’s food sources by forcing the closure of community centers and other programs older low-income adults use to access food.

With 28 percent of Americans living without any savings at all, any economic disruption or short-term emergency can make it difficult for individuals — including seniors, who often live on fixed-incomes — to obtain enough food to eat.

With aging comes dietary changes that require a higher intake of nutrients such as protein and calcium. Unfortunately, one in two seniors are at risk for malnutrition related to difficulty chewing and swallowing, losses or changes in appetite, and physical or mental health challenges.

Eating nutrient specific foods creates a financial burden on senior households who are already living with income constraints. The Commodity Supplemental Food Program, also known as the senior box program, was created by the USDA to meet the specific dietary needs of the senior population.

Congress appropriated $222.891 million for CSFP in fiscal year 2019 in order to provide this box at no cost to participants. The program is available in all 50 states to individuals living at or below 130 percent of the Federal Poverty line.

The Foodbank, Inc. distributes 1,020 boxes to seniors in Montgomery and Greene counties at 18 different distribution sites. To enroll in the senior box program, prospective recipients must fill out an application and meet the income requirements, both of which can be found on our website.

The pandemic has had a detrimental effect on families across the world, so it was no surprise to us when applications for the CSFP program came pouring in. Food banks have a limited caseload of seniors they are able to serve through this program each month. We reached our capacity for this program on March 12, 2020.

Once the program reaches capacity, we are still able to take applications and place them on a waitlist. As spots open up, they are filled on a first-come-first-serve basis. At the time of writing this post, there are still 95 people on the CSFP waitlist.

People who are waitlisted or declined from the program are still eligible to receive food through other Foodbank programs, however. We regularly refer individuals to their local pantry, Mobile Farmers Market, or our Drive Thru Food Pantry when they are not yet able to or not eligible to receive a CSFP box. We also bring boxes of non-federal food to our senior food box distributions so nobody goes home without something to eat.

Another federal program that benefits seniors is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps. SNAP is available to all adults who meet income guidelines of 130 percent of the federal poverty limit, or $12,760 annually for a household of one.

SNAP is an especially valuable tool in the fight against food insecurity because it allows recipients to have purchasing power. A senior who has specific dietary restrictions is able to purchase the food they need directly at the store. This approach has economic benefits as well: every $1 provided through SNAP generates $1.50-$1.80 in economic activity, according to 2019 calculations from the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (2018 data).

However, there are particular challenges to using SNAP to combat hunger among our seniors. Participation in this program for adults over the age of 60 is particularly low. To apply for SNAP, potential recipients must use a phone or computer, print off and mail an application, or be able to find application assistance with a local agency.

Due in part to these obstacles, it is estimated that only 2 in 5 eligible seniors participate in the program, according to the National Council on Aging.

SNAP utilization rates are much lower for older adults in Ohio.

In addition to the barriers to apply, seniors who receive SNAP benefits must visit the grocery store to use them. This presents a risk of exposure to COVID-19 for vulnerable seniors, and can also be difficult for older adults who do not have transportation or who are living with a disability. About one in three food insecure seniors are disabled.

While all individuals who are food insecure face an increased risk of certain health outcomes, seniors face a unique situation. According to the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), older adults living with food insecurity experience increased rates of a myriad of health problems, including asthma, congestive heart failure, hypertension, malnutrition, depression, and obesity resulting from consuming high-calorie/low nutrient food.

Older adults, who often live on fixed incomes and struggle with high medical costs, also utilize a number of dangerous coping mechanisms to stretch their budget, including forgoing necessary medications and preventative medical treatment, leading to higher medical costs and worse health in the long term.

Data from FRAC shows that older adults who are food insecure are much more likely to stretch their household budget by rationing or discontinuing prescribed medications.

Are you or somebody you know in need of assistance? The following resources may help:

  • For more information about our CSFP Program, contact Katie Ly, Programs Manager, at KLy@thefoodbankdayton.org and 937-461-0265 x33, or Yiselle Heredia, Data Entry/CSFP Specialist at YHeredia@thefoodbankdayton.org and 937-461-0265 x19
  • The Foodbank holds Mobile Farmers Markets in many locations in the community. Visit our website to view our schedule.
  • Anyone in need of food assistance may also visit our weekly onsite drive thru. Hours can be found on our website as well as our social media channels
  • For SNAP application assistance, contact Colette Looney, SNAP Coordinator, at CLooney@thefoodbankdayton.org and 937-461-0265 x37

 


The Social Determinants of Health: Connecting the dots between race, health equity, and the food landscape

The Social Determinants of Health: Connecting the dots between race, health equity, and the food landscape

How racial differences in food access contribute to poorer health outcomes for communities of color

By: Caitlyn McIntosh, Development Manager and Emily Gallion, Grant & Advocacy Manager

You may have seen headlines recently that Black communities are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis. Nationally, Black individuals account for about double the proportion of the COVID-19 death toll as the portion of the overall population they represent.

Some public health officials have received criticism for suggesting that the correlation is primarily due to higher rates of obesity and other chronic diseases among the Black community. However, the relationship between chronic diseases, race, poverty, and food insecurity is much more complicated, and it has everything to do with the social determinants of health.

While “social determinants of health” may seem to be a relatively new term in the public health space, it was used as early as 2004 by the World Health Organization (WHO), which defines it as “the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life.” 

The United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) has also recognized the social determinants of health, defining it as “life-enhancing resources, such as food supply, housing, economic and social relationships, transportation, education, and health care, whose distribution across populations effectively determines length and quality of life.” 

A growing body of research suggests that these resources can have a profound effect on an individual’s health – even the length of their life – and that the unequal distribution of these resources contributes to inequity in the healthcare system.

We at The Foodbank are not experts in public health. However, we do have a responsibility to stay knowledgeable about the way food insecurity intersects with other aspects of people’s wellbeing. In fact, food insecurity is closely linked to health outcomes later in life.

While the terms “food insecurity” and “hunger” are sometimes used interchangeably, “hunger” refers to the physical feeling associated with a lack of food, but food insecurity, defined as the ability to obtain enough food to live a healthy, active lifestyle, is a much more complex issue. 

As such, not all people experiencing food insecurity are necessarily starving, and many experience higher-than-average rates of obesity. This may be due to the survival strategy of purchasing cheaper, calorie-dense foods to meet basic dietary needs. Over time, this contributes to issues such as obesity, and heart disease.

According to Feeding America’s Hunger in America 2014 study, over one in five Feeding America households report having to choose between purchasing food and paying for medical expenses every month

Food insecurity and poor health outcomes also contribute to a cycle of poverty and poor health, which keeps families trapped in patterns that can last generations. Many Feeding America households report having to choose between buying food and paying for medical care. Coping mechanisms such as underusing medications, avoiding preventative care, and failure to adhere to a medically-necessary diet (such as for treatment for diabetes) can lead to higher medical costs and poorer health in the long-term.

As people return to work, concerns of food security are still highly prevalent. Ohio food insecurity rates have doubled due to the coronavirus, jumping from 13.9% to 23%. We saw that same trend here at The Foodbank with visits to our drive thru pantry. About 2,000 families came to visit us in February and 4,684 came in March. Our numbers continued to rise throughout April, finishing out at over 8,000 families.

According to the Dayton Daily News, one in seven Ohioans are still unemployed. Many families are still focusing on trying to pay rent, mortgages, and other bills, leaving little to no room for a food budget. At our June 6 mass distribution in Greene County, we saw 667 families. What is unique about this distribution is that of those families, 521 were new to the food assistance network. This tells us that although many businesses have been able to reopen, people are still seeing emergencies everyday as a result of the pandemic.

Another often-cited contributor to health outcomes is food access, namely, whether an individual lives in a food desert. An area is defined as a food desert if it is high-poverty with no neighborhood supermarket. (The USDA includes several levels to this definition, which include the percent of individuals with access to transportation, the percent of people living in poverty, and even an area’s rural or urban classification.)

Food access and food insecurity are distinct as food insecurity refers to an individual’s ability to afford food (a function of poverty) whereas food access refers to an individual’s ability to obtain food (a function of environment and geography, which is also a function of poverty). Somebody with low food insecurity may live down the block from a supermarket, but still be unable to afford food, while somebody living in a food desert may be able to afford healthy food, but have no grocery stores nearby.

Living in a food desert is associated with similar health outcomes as food insecurity, including substantially increased risks of obesity and diabetes. Families living in food deserts are often forced to shop at corner markets and convenience stores, which typically offer limited, high-cost, or low-quality selections of fresh produce and protein items.

Food access and food equity go hand-in-hand because areas that are USDA-recognized food deserts are disproportionately communities of color and high-poverty areas. While food access is inherently regional, research from the New York Law School Racial Justice Project has estimated that Black and Latino households are half as likely and one-third as likely to have access to a supermarket, respectively.

A screencap of the USDA’s Food Access Atlas, which shows geographic regions that are low income (LI) and low food access (LA) at varying distances from the supermarket. The Foodbank’s service territory is outlined in black.

In addition to food access issues, food insecurity itself is also racialized. In the United states, 21.2% of Black households, 16.2% of Hispanic households and 10.2% of other/non-hispanic households were food insecure in 2018, compared to 8.1% of white households.

So, what does all of this have to do with COVID-19?

While it may be simple to explain the correlation between race and COVID-19 deaths as due to obesity rates — implicitly blaming victims for overeating — this ignores the reality that many people in high-poverty, predominantly black areas face factors beyond their control that contribute to poor health, such as an inability to afford healthy food or an inability to travel to obtain it.

In fact, a June 10 working paper by MIT researchers found that even after controlling for income level, health insurance coverage, rates of chronic disease such as obesity and diabetes, and public transit usage, counties with higher numbers of Black residents had higher rates of COVID-19 infections.

According to Chris Knittel, the study’s senior author, we have to look beyond these simple explanations to understand why the Black community is facing such a high toll in the COVID-19 crisis.

“The causal mechanism has to be something else,” said Knittel. “If I were a public official, I’d be looking at differences in the quality of insurance, conditions such as chronic stress, and systemic discrimination.”

To see the actions we are taking to promote equitable access to food in our service area, view our impact statement here.

If you’re curious about more of our network data or other social issues such as these, follow us @thefoodbankinc on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube, and Linkedin!