June 2022 THRIVE | Food Insecurity
Greetings Friends –
It’s been a slow start to the growing season, but here’s to the berries and beans that are finally on their way — and the full bounty of summer just around the corner. Most of us want everyone in our community to enjoy abundance at the table. Sadly, we’re far from that reality; today an estimated 1 in 5 people in Whatcom County is considered “food insecure.” That’s unacceptable. If you agree, please read on.
President & CEO
Food insecurity is defined as a “lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.” Prior to COVID-19 food insecurity affected 15% of Whatcom County residents and was rising; current data suggests 20% of residents are food insecure (Washington State Food Security Survey 1 & 2, 2020-2021). Since the expanded child tax credit expired last December and inflation continues to affect gas and food prices, many families are back to choosing between rent, medicine, childcare, work transportation and food – food being the most flexible area to cut.
Whatcom food banks are struggling to keep up, experiencing higher than typical use since January 2022 — Ferndale and Bellingham both report double the number of users in the last 1-2 years — and are facing increased costs related to inflation.
Several, especially the smaller food banks, have started to cut higher cost items like eggs, dairy and meat, because they don’t have the funds. Some lack key equipment, such as pallet movers and refrigeration capacity, and few of the area’s 10 food relief organizations have more than one, if any, paid professional staff. Most rely on dedicated volunteers. A few more facts:
- Government dollars comprise less than 20 percent of food bank funding. The rest comes from financial and food donations from private individuals and organizations.
- Most people who use our food banks are working families, people with disabilities, elderly.
- In Whatcom County, as well as across the state and nation, people of color are disproportionately low-income and visiting food banks.
- A third of people who are food insecure are not considered economically disadvantaged enough to qualify for government food assistance (The Hamilton Project, April 2016).
Food banks, though a band aid, are vital in alleviating hardship and hunger. And charity is not a solution to ensuring ongoing access to enough food for ten or even five, let alone 20 percent of our neighbors on an ongoing basis.
In the words of one local food bank professional, “Food banking is a crappy model.”
Ending hunger in a nation that has plenty of money and food is a complex matter of shifting perceptions, policies and practices that hinder economic prosperity for many. Creating more economic opportunities for more people and addressing high housing, childcare, healthcare and food costs will get to the root of the problem. Some of that work is starting to take shape here. After a 2021 assessment of our county-wide food system, public health officials are developing a plan to strengthen it, including food security.
More immediately, we can build on the growing countywide collaboration and great work done during the pandemic to increase efficiency, and to reach more people experiencing food insecurity. Key healthcare providers are getting involved —with lots of room to do more. And it’s essential to identify infrastructure changes to meet the growing demand for prepared meals, particularly during and in the immediate aftermath of emergencies.
Increasingly our food banks favor practices that focus on dignity and agency, e.g., using a grocery shopping model; offering more fresh and local food; longer hours with fewer limits on the number or frequency of visits; a wider variety of food cultures represented, along with fresh produce and non-food essentials like toilet paper and diapers.
What the Whatcom Community Foundation is Doing
- Advocated successfully to add food security to the county’s food system planning work (2021)
- Supported the Whatcom Council on Aging’s Farm-to-Seniors program, getting more healthy, local food to their Meals on Wheels and More clients.
- Building on early efforts in the Mount Baker School District, catalyzed the Whatcom Farm-to-School initiative which supports districts countywide in incorporating more locally grown and processed food into their meal and snack programs.
- Provided significant planning and funding support to Bellingham Public School’s Central Kitchen transition to scratch-made meals using more local food. (2010-2018)
- Supported Bellingham Food Bank’s pop-up pantry model, making it easier for families with transportation barriers to access food. BFB delivers food bank services at and near several area schools.
- Convened the Food Security Task Force in response to the pandemic, establishing a network of food security organizations that continues to meet monthly to share information and ideas, and explore ways to address food insecurity.
- Supported Task Force partners to launch Farm to Freezer, purchasing crops from local farms with pandemic-disrupted markets and preparing soups and sauces in the Central Kitchen to freeze and provide to hunger relief programs in 2021.
- On behalf of the Task Force, submitted proposals to elected officials to use:
- Federal pandemic relief funds (CARES Act) for food bank needs, yielding $600,000 to purchase refrigerated trucks and other equipment that will improve service delivery well beyond the pandemic. (2020)
- American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to assess and implement a plan to achieve food security in Whatcom County (2022).
- Spearheading Millworks, a mixed-use project on Bellingham’s waterfront that includes affordable housing, childcare and a local food campus.
How You Can Help
- Give to any of these local food banks
- Give to the Whatcom Food Security Fund
- Take 15 minutes to help inform Whatcom’s food system plan
- Contact Senator Murray and contact Senator Cantwell to urge support of reviving the Expanded Child Tax Credit.
- Advocate for extension of universal school meals. Stay tuned for details.
- Advocate for policies and practices that support affordable housing and childcare.
Read about the effects of child tax credits on poverty
View the Whatcom County Food Assessment Update 2021
View the Washington State Food Security Survey
Read about fighting the stigma on hunger relief
View the THRIVE Newsletter as e-mailed on 6/15/2022 HERE>