More than 25 percent of county’s kids food insecure

They aren’t getting enough meals to spur health, growth

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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More than a quarter of Clark County children aren’t getting enough healthy meals to nourish their growing bodies or, in some cases, aren’t getting enough food, period.

Locally, 28 percent of kids and 17.3 percent of adults are food insecure, according to statistics recently released by the Chicago-based nonprofit, Feeding America. That translates to 31,160 children and 72,140 adults in Clark County, according to the nonprofit.

Food insecurity refers to the number of people who lack access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle, and have limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.

Numerous local food banks and nonprofit organizations have emergency food box programs to assist food insecure families, but the need is far greater than what those organizations can provide, said Bill Coleman, a board member for the Clark County Food Bank.

The Clark County Food Bank provides 10,000 emergency food boxes to local families each month, which translates to about 33,000 people, Coleman said.

“There’s different ways of getting food to kids, but food insecure means they go to bed hungry,” he said. “Hungry isn’t, ‘Gee whiz, my lunch is late.’ It’s: ‘I didn’t eat today.’”

The local figures are higher than both the state percentages — 24.7 percent kids and 14.8 percent adults — and national numbers — 23.2 percent of kids and 16.6 percent of adults, according to Feeding America.

The nonprofit Feeding America is a network of more than 200 food banks and is the largest hunger-relief charity in the U.S. The organization determined the need for food at the local level by calculating the food insecurity rates of every county in the country.

Typically, the number of people falling below the federal poverty threshold was the indicator used for determining the need for food. However, national food insecurity data showed that about 45 percent of those struggling with hunger have incomes above the federal poverty level, according to Feeding America.

In Washougal, organizations like the Children’s Home Society are seeing families that used to donate food coming to the organization for emergency food boxes, said Erinn Havig, program manager at Children’s Home Society. Last year, the group distributed 2,000 food boxes, she said.

“Food is such an essential function for families, and it’s one of the things they want to provide for their kids but don’t always have the access or means to do so,” Havig said.

To try and combat childhood hunger, the Children’s Home Society began a weekend backpack program a few years ago. The organization partners with Hathaway Elementary School in Washougal to send bags of nutritious food home with kids who wouldn’t otherwise have access to enough food, Havig said. Typically, the kids receive free or reduced meals at school during the week, she said.

Last week, the program distributed bags to eight children. This week, it was 17 kids, she said.

Still, the need is greater than what the organization can provide. Havig estimates 50 to 60 children at Hathaway need the food backpacks, but the program is bound by how much food is donated to the organization.

“We know that there are kids that don’t get enough to eat over the weekend,” she said.

Marissa Harshman: http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com; 360-735-4546.