According to the recent Map the Meal Gap Report distributed by Feeding America, the national hunger relief and membership organization representing 197 food banks across the U.S., the prevalence of hunger in suburbia continues to have an impact upon the middle and working class. As reported in the Hunger in America Study compiled by Feeding America in 2013, there are 316,000 people on Long Island experiencing domestic hunger and high food insecurity. This figure represents 11.1% of the total population of Nassau and Suffolk Counties.
Move forward to 2016, and the current Map the Meal Gap identifies that among the 316,000 people, there are 181,480 Long Islanders eligible for Federal assistance programs such as SNAP, Medicaid, WIC, Medicare and other government entitlement programs that struggle with some degree of daily food insecurity. This represents 6.4% of the total population in our region. But, the report also lists 134,520 people that are not eligible for Federal assistance and who still must turn to local pantries, soup kitchens, and some of the services of the regional food bank to meet their need for nutritious food and at least one complete, healthy meal per day.
This segment of our population which represents 4.7% is comprised of a very diverse group of Long Islanders that although not considered to be “poor” in relation to meeting the federal poverty standards are none the less needy. They represent people that are underemployed, or families in which one or two heads of the household might be working two or more jobs just to meet their monthly expenses. They represent young couples that might earn a combined salary of $90,000 but still find it difficult to access enough food because they’re paying “affordable” monthly rent of between $1,900-$2,500 for a one bedroom apartment and paying off school loans. They represent retirees who’s pensions and social security benefits just can’t be stretched within an economy where increased property taxes has become the norm. And they represent veterans who served in Viet Nam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraq, and went from the front lines to the food lines.
While the Map the Meal Gap Report captures only 316,000 people in relation to Federal assistance programs, there are many more of our neighbors that aren’t accounted for in this report and are nonetheless, very much in need of the services supported by or directly provided by Long Island Cares, Inc.
As we’ve seen during the past seven years at Long Island Cares, regional food banks must diversify their services and their approach to solving hunger in our local communities. Just providing emergency food through the food bank network isn’t enough to meet the increasing demands for humanitarian assistance. That’s why Long Island Cares continues to pioneer new approaches to solving hunger in our communities and with the continued support from the corporate and business community, local, state and Federal government, and our generous neighbors, will continue to develop a network of specialized services to meet the very diverse needs of struggling Long Islanders.
This article was initially published in the HIA-LI Reporter in July, 2016.