MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — As volunteering increases around the holidays, those who feed the hungry year round see Christmas and Thanksgiving as just another day the poor and malnourished need help.
"I don't think our distribution goes up around Thanksgiving and December because we're giving out so much every day of the year. It's a 365 day of the year problem," said Richard Deem, Chief Executive Officer of the Montgomery Area Food Bank, one of the 200 food banks in the United States under contract with Feeding America.
While the non-profit has already distributed more than 1,700 turkeys this year, the food pantry distributed 28 million pounds of food the entire year of 2018. The pantry has a quick turnover rate of about a month, distributing food to 170 agencies in Montgomery County.
"In six weeks this entire warehouse will be empty," Spokesman for the food bank, Al Bloom, said as he stood on a platform overlooking a vast shipping and receiving area.
Bloom brought up prospective revisions to food assistance for struggling families that could overwhelm food pantries across the nation. Proposed changes to eligibility and the enrollment process for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps, has put families at risk of losing food assistance.
Of those living in Montgomery County, scores depend on SNAP, a federally funded program providing food assistance to low-income individuals and families. In 2019, more than 50,000 Montgomery County residents were recipients of food assistance through SNAP — as per data from the Alabama Department of Human Resources. The amount of children eligible for food assistance in Montgomery County this year was nearly half of the county's population in 2018.
Even with thousands receiving food assistance in Montgomery County, the rate of children without access to food has increased. Food insecurity is measured by lack of access to enough food for a healthy life. Food insecurity in Montgomery County for those under of the age of 18 increased from 20% to 22% from 2010 to 2017, according to data from Feeding America.
Gariesa Galdreath, head of the food pantry at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, gives 10 to 20 people who meet the federal poverty income level food bags every Thursday throughout the year. Children grab for food as soon as she hands them the bags.
"You can tell when a child is hungry, especially if they're small, because they don't how to cover it up," Galdreath said.
Food insecurity also reflects the need to make tradeoffs between basic needs, such as being forced to choose between housing, medical bills and adequate food. Galdreath said single mothers and seniors with pricey medical prescriptions are the most common recipients of donated food at the pantry.
"The first thing a person is going to cut is their food because they don't want to become homeless," Galdreath said.
Many lack access to quality, fresh food, which is critical to health. Rather than fresh food, those living in low income areas have over-access to cheap, processed foods full of fat and sugar that leads to diabetes and heart disease. In 2018, Alabama had the most fast food restaurants per capita in the country, with 6.3 restaurants per 10,000 residents.
"We focus on fresh produce," Bloom said. "The people we serve comprise the population most susceptible to diet related disease."
The Alabama Department of Public Health reported more than 17,200 diet-related deaths in 2017. The childhood obesity rate statewide was 18%. Preventing further rises in the obesity rate in Montgomery County requires immediate intervention, says Montgomery's Envision 2040 Comprehensive Plan.
Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com