Almost one in five children in Cass County who sometimes don’t have access to enough food for a healthy life aren’t eligible for federal assistance programs designed to address that lack, a new study indicates.
Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap project attempted to paint a detailed picture of “food insecurity” across the nation. Food insecurity, as defined by the project and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, refers to lack of access at times to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle.
While food insecure households are not necessarily insecure all the time, the project website indicates, food insecurity may reflect a household’s need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, like housing or medical bills, and buying nutritious food.
In Cass County, 23.3 percent of children live in food insecure households, meaning about 2,310 children in the county do not always have nutritious meals.
Of those, 18 percent are ineligible for federal nutrition programs that provide assistance to families with household incomes at or below 185 percent of the poverty line.
“It’s unfortunately pretty much what we know,” Jason Mitchell said. As head of Emmaus Mission Center and chairman of the Cass County Resource Network’s food security task force, he’s well aware that 13.9 percent of all Cass County residents sometimes lack access to enough food.
“To know that we haven’t been able to make a significant decrease is an issue for me,” Mitchell said.
While some children aren’t eligible for federal nutrition assistance, their families can still use some local food pantries, like those run through churches, that don’t have any income guidelines, he said.
Other local programs, like the Backpacks for Food initiative, aim to fill in the gaps between federal programs for those who are eligible. The Backpacks program sends food home with children over weekends and some school breaks, when they aren’t receiving free or reduced-price lunches at school.