According to a report known as the 2015 Kids Count — issued by the Annie E. Casey Foundation — an annual publication that assesses child well-being nationally and across the 50 states, one in four South Florida children are living in poverty. And where there is poverty, there is hunger.
Indeed, hunger is often an invisible problem in South Florida, says Paco Velez, CEO of Feeding South Florida, one of 202 food banks that comprise the Feeding America network nationwide. However, the problem is especially bad in Palm Beach County, where the number of food-insecure residents is growing. Despite being home to some of the wealthiest ZIP codes in the country, each day one in four children will go to sleep hungry, and one in seven adults will choose between spending money on food or health-care needs.
According to Velez, the rise in hunger is mainly due to the increase in poverty in cities where the high cost of living outweighs the low wages paid to a large number of residents, leaving more struggling to feed themselves.
"We're seeing the need go up [here]," Velez told News Channel Five in a recent interview. "When you pay more than 50 percent on your rent, that leaves a lot less money to spend on [food]."
Feeding South Florida (FSF) serves a majority of the state's food-insecure population, including Palm Beach, Broward, Monroe, and Miami-Dade counties. Its mission is to end hunger in South Florida by providing residents with immediate access to nutritious food, leading hunger and poverty advocacy efforts, and forward-thinking programming and education.
The nonprofit's Pembroke Park and West Palm Beach-based facilities collect food from farmers, retail stores, grocers, food manufacturers, and donations derived from food drives. From there, FSF distributes up to 3 million pounds of food each month to more than 300 distribution centers and food banks located across the South Florida area. The nonprofit also organizes several programs, including:
- The Mobile Pantry Program: Supplying areas known as "food deserts," an area in which a majority of the residents have limited access to large retail stores with fresh food and grocery products. The residents in these neighborhoods live below the federal poverty level, as determined by the U.S. government.
- The Backpack Program: A program that offers food to school-aged children to take home on weekends who attend Title I elementary schools and/or afterschool programs where at least 90 percent of enrolled students are on federal nutrition assistance programs, have household incomes that fall at or below poverty lines, and are in underserved areas.
- The Afterschool Snack Program: A partnership with the Florida Department of Health that ensures children receive the proper nutrition, including those that are low in sugar, fat, and sodium.
- Senior Program: With the support of the AARP Foundation and the Miami Marlins, Feeding South Florida distributes boxes filled with 10-12 meals for older adults who struggle between paying for groceries or medicine.
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Velez says the local area food banks often need more help during the summer months when children are not in school where they can take part in the FSF and school system's School Food Service free and reduced-priced lunch programs.
How can you help? Donating just $1 can provide six meals to those in need of food assistance.
For more ways to help fight hunger in South Florida, visit feedingsouthflorida.org.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.