Orange County, California is often thought of as a place of great natural beauty and affluence, with agricultural roots that have, over time, transformed largely (though not completely) into a suburban metropolis complete with a booming population and increasing business, public, and private sectors. Popular television shows such as “The OC” and “Laguna Beach” have branded the region with a feel of social and economic exclusiveness, and with reason. Orange County ranks among the top 10 most expensive places to live in the United States, with housing costs nearly three times that of the national average. For example, in Newport Beach, median homes rank around $1 million dollars, and even a trip to the salon will cost you twice what it would almost anywhere else.
In a region of such monetary precedence, any issues related to hunger would seemingly prove irrelevant. Surely, a place teeming with showy sports cars, elegant mansions, and first- class dining wouldn’t be affected by its resident’s inability to adequately access or purchase nutritious foods on a regular basis, right? Unfortunately, and contrary to popular assumption, food insecurity in Orange County is a real problem. According to Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County, about 21% of the county’s residents are unable to successfully purchase meals or groceries on a regular basis and many are affected by food- related illnesses such as obesity or hypertension as a result, given that low food costs directly coincide with high- calorie foods.
Even with this baseline information understood, much is unknown about the realities facing either Orange County or our nation with regards to food insecurity. So, what’s being done about this? Feeding America, the nation’s largest charity organization focused in hunger relief efforts, is conducting a study throughout Orange County and the rest of the country in cooperation with its subsidiary food banks, called the Hunger In America 2014 Study. The purpose of the study is to conduct research on charitable food assistance services for people in need, with the ultimate intention of raising awareness about hunger related issues and gaining more support and resources for food banks and their corresponding non- profits across the country. The data collected from these surveys will be compiled and published, and will be used to lobby for increased federal, state, and private support. Additionally, this study will be used to advertise the facts and statistics about hunger and food insecurity in the United States, and will help Feeding America and its network of food banks (including Orange County’s own, Second Harvest Food Bank) better understand the agencies they work with to provide hunger relief and the clients that receive their services.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with food banks and terms related to food banks, here are a couple of useful definitions.
- Food Bank: a food bank is a non- profit organization that accepts donations in the form of food from major grocery retailers and works with non- profits that are involved with hunger- relief efforts to provide food and groceries at a highly subsidized rate to support their programs.
- Agency: An agency of a food bank is a non- profit that is registered as a 501(c)3, such as a church that runs a soup kitchen or a shelter program, that gets a portion or all of the food it distributes to those in need through its corresponding food bank.
- Program: Agencies run and operate different programs, both food and non- food related, for their clients. Examples of programs include: soup kitchens, shelter programs, and grocery programs.
- Clients: Clients represent the families and individuals who receive services from agencies.
The Hunger In America 2014 Study sixth in the series of Hunger Studies, with each study surpassing the previous ones in scope and impact. The first Hunger Study, conducted in 1993, included more than 3,000 agencies and almost 9,000 client interviews. By 2010, the number of Agency Survey responses increased more than ten- fold, to 37,000 agencies and the number of client interviews (61,000) was more than seven times that of the 1993 study. Over 47,500 agencies were invited to participate in the Agency Survey portion of the HIA 2014 Study, and it is anticipated that over 70,000 surveys will be completed at the client level.
The Hunger Studies are two fold: there is an Agency- level survey and a Client- level survey. The first portion of the HIA 2014 is the Agency survey, which was conducted from October 2012 through January 2013. The Agency survey was a web- based survey that collected information on the agencies in the Feeding America network, including data related to the types of programs the non- profit ran, its relation to nutrition, the resources needed to further expand or improve their services, etc. The Client survey is the second part of HIA 2014, and it will be administered directly to clients at food distribution sites of selected non- profits. This portion of the study will be used to understand the different issues clients face and their coping strategies for dealing with these problems. Information gathered in the Client survey will include issues related to individuals being able to access enough food, general knowledge about nutrition, relative incomes compared to family size, and demographic information, among other components.
This section of the survey involves systematically selecting a group of people at various programs to participate in the study, and leading through the Client Survey process, which is also completely automated. The Client survey is set to begin on April 15, and will involve food bank employees and a team of dedicated volunteers who will be traveling to selected program sites throughout Orange County to administer the survey to individuals affected by food insecurity in this region. Sounds pretty cool, right?
Well, if you’re interested in getting involved in something like this, you’re in luck! Second Harvest is currently recruiting volunteers who will be able to help travel to sites throughout the county and give surveys to selected individuals from April to August 2013. For more information, please contact Hunger Study Coordinator, Hannah Evans, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at: (949)-653-2900 ext 154.
To recap, the purpose of the studies are to conduct research on charitable food assistance services for people in need. The information collected helps Feeding America, and its network of food banks, to better understand the agencies they work with to provide hunger relief and the clients they serve. Feeding America uses the information collected from the Hunger Studies to educate donors and the public about the scope of the services provided by the food banks. The data from these studies can also be used to advocate for government assistance, which of course has the potential to help combat hunger in the future.
So, while it’s daunting to think that there’s such an issue with food insecurity in Orange County, it’s comforting to know that the problem is recognized and that attempts to alleviate the situation are in place. Most importantly, it’s important to note that the work being done is available to anyone, regardless of their background or experience, who’s interested in making our county, our state, and our country a better, more secure, and more effectively developed place.