Food pantries are important, but they aren’t enough to fix food insecurity

March 27, 2024
by Carla Ventura, Expert on Poverty

Food insecurity rates have been decreasing every year for over a decade in the United States (14.5 percent in 2010 to 10.2 percent in 2021). That progress reversed in 2022 when essential pandemic era supports expired. Food insecurity rates increased to 12.8 percent and over 44 million people were unable to afford enough food. This is the highest the U.S. has seen since 2014.  

Food insecurity is the household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food. I am the founder of a non-profit organization, Food For All, that provides food to families in the community. I have also experienced food insecurity myself. The negative effects food insecurity can have on individuals and their families is disastrous. 

South Carolina is in the top 10 states with the highest food insecurity rates. Over 700,000 people live below the poverty level and many more are living paycheck to paycheck. I have spent the last fifteen years volunteering in my community. I’ve seen how many barriers there are to addressing food insecurity on a local level through food pantries: 

  • The donations pantries receive can be limiting. 
  • Some people do not have access to reliable transportation to the food pantry or lack money for gas. 
  • People often wait for hours to be able to go through the process of receiving the food. 
  • Some food pantries need photo identification and living in specific ZIP codes. 

Another major barrier with relying on food pantries as a solution to food insecurity is that food pantries often must turn people away. People often get denied food for making a few dollars too much to meet the income limits a food pantry has. A small raise can trigger someone to lose their government benefits or ability to access community services. This can result in them being worse off than they were before.  

It’s heartbreaking to see food pantries turn away people who need food. It’s equally heartbreaking to hear stories of struggle, shame, and the impossible decisions people are forced to make daily to survive. Food insecurity means choosing between filling your belly or paying rent. Seeking medical care, deciding if you should eat less today to have something to eat tomorrow. It means purchasing more inexpensive, unhealthy foods because you must make hard choices to stretch the food budget. 

Food pantries across the country have worked tirelessly to feed the hungry in their communities but it is not enough. We need intervention on a federal level to combat food insecurity. We need more funding for social welfare programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). We need to bring back the monthly payments from the 2021 expansion of the Child Tax Credit that lifted 2.1 million children out of poverty. These programs provide more resources to be able to access more healthy food options. They keep our children’s bellies full which improves grades and test scores

We must advocate for the policies and programs that our communities need. Advocating with the anti-poverty organization RESULTS allows me to advocate to end poverty. My advocacy allows me to share my personal experiences and the needs of my community that often go unheard. Through volunteering with RESULTS, I see the connection between food insecurity locally and nationally. And I am equipped to advocate for a world where everyone has access to healthy, affordable food. 

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