According to Feeding America, 48.1 million, or 14.8 %, people are food insecure in the United States. There are many programs that offer food assistance, both governmental and non-governmental. These include food banks, SNAP benefits, and WIC benefits, which specifically help women and children. Due to the growing need of American families, some communities have established non-traditional food programs.
Mobile Foodshare, which serves Hartford and Tolland counties in Connecticut, uses converted trucks to deliver food directly to those in need. Instead of having to go to a specific site, which may be difficult for some service users to get to, the trucks visit over seventy different sties throughout Hartford and Tolland counties, brining fresh, nutritious food directly to those in need.
Oftentimes, people who rely on food stamps and other forms of nutritional assistance do not eat as healthily as they would like. Fresh, healthy foods cost more than many pre-packaged, sugar and sodium laden foods, and for those who are on a strict budget, it is easy to see the appeal of buying less healthy foods and stretching the budget. While many farmers’ markets accept SNAP benefits, the produce is still expensive. The Produce Plus program has seen this problem and is working to solve it.
Produce Plus is an incentive program, run through the D.C. Department of Health, which gives individuals and families with SNAP or other governmental benefits extra money to use at farmer’s markets. Each day, an individual or family who qualifies can get two $5 checks per market, per day, to help them afford fresh, healthy, local foods. These checks are in addition to their benefit money, thus expanding their budget for fresh foods by at least $10 per day.
Operation Sharing, a church based charity in Ontario, began their Food for Friends project around ten years ago. Instead of the traditional food bank model, which is often full of processed, sugar, and sodium laden options, the system uses pre-loaded grocery cards which people can use to buy non-taxable food items. At local grocery stores, community members can donate to Food for Friends when they check out. Typically, non-taxable food items include fresh foods, such as meats, dairy, and vegetables, as opposed to processed, boxed goods.
BackPack Beginnings is a North Carolina based charity, which provides food, and comfort backpacks to local children. The comfort packs are for children who are being removed from their homes due to trauma, abuse, or neglect and contain items such as clean clothes, toiletries, and a stuffed animal.
The food backpacks were created to fill the weekend gap for children in food insecure households. Many students who receive free or reduced price lunches during the school week go home to empty cabinets on the weekends. Students are given a backpack with four meals for the weekend on Thursday, all of which include milk, fruits, and vegetables.
Hunger continues to be a major problem for many Americans. Traditional forms of food assistance are very helpful for food insecure individuals and families, but for many reasons, sometimes these forms of assistance are not available for people, or their assistance falls short of what is needed. The many alternatives to the traditional model aim to fill the gaps for struggling families.