This article was written by BenitoLink intern Juliana Luna

According to a recently released report, 29.4% of adults and 12% of children in San Benito County are experiencing food insecurity. The report by the UC Santa Cruz Blum Center on Poverty, Social, Enterprise and Participatory Governance which was presented at the Community Foundation Epicenter on Sept. 21, states food assistance in San Benito County has increased during 2019-20.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as a lack of access to nutritional food for an active healthy life.

Gary Byrne, CEO of the Community Foundation for San Benito County, said at the event donors ask him frequently if there’s a possibility San Benito County is getting over supplied with grants to food organizations. 

“We are not over supplied, we have food insecurity. We do not have enough food,” he said.

Researcher David Amaral with Blum Center presented the findings.

Blum Center used a food insecurity index; a study used to measure and analyze county-level rates of food insecurity. Its findings are based on census, household incomes, food assistance efforts and food programs from 2019-20 and 2016-17.

“After gathering information on the average spending, and food assistance coming to the county, we take a look and convert them all into meal graphs, units, to calculate into the index to have an idea, how much of that gap the population can spend and their needs,” said Amaral.

According to ‘Food Insecurity in San Benito County: An Assessment of Need and Assistance Efforts’ by Blum Center researchers Amaral, Emily Hentschke, Heather Bullock, and Eva Bertram, between July 2019-20, an estimate of 7,300 households, which is about 17,200 individuals, were at risk of food insecurity. The report states county households with an annual salary below $75,000 are considered at-risk. Additionally, based on data from the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, the at-risk households were able to approximately purchase 61% of the food needed to get three meals a day per individual.

According to the report, heading into 2019, the county saw a decline of food assistance in meals, however coming into 2020 during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic there was an increase of food assistance in San Benito County. Out of 6.2 million meals, 33% of the food that is needed by the at-risk households, were provided through assistance programs. Of those meals, 41.5% came from programs funded by the U.S Department of Education, 31.9% came through the CalFresh program, 4.8% from the Women, Infants, and Children program, 21.9% came from the Community Food Bank of San Benito County and nonprofit organizations. 

“Efforts were expanded to meet the need, but despite that it [about 17%] remained unmet, 1.2 million meals were missed,” said Amaral.

Meaning each week 1.3 meals per week per person were missed.

Between 2017 and 2020, the Blum Center found a decline of households at risk of food insecurity. The Blum Center concludes food meals provided by the school meal program, county food banks and nonprofit organizations expanded significantly food assistance in the county. 

To close the meal gap in San Benito County, the Blum Center recommends a network of food assistance providers and policy support at the local, state, and federal levels. Their findings included:

  • Food providers require an increase in financial and volunteer support to meet ongoing needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Government assistance programs should be expanded and sustained 
  • Stigma is a barrier to accessing resources
  • Create a collaborative network of nonprofit organizations
  • City and county legislators can strengthen partnerships with local organizations to apply and advocate funding



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