Giving and Leading: Childhood Hunger

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United Food Bank is out with new numbers for child food insecurity rates in Arizona. Ginny Hildebrand, executive director of UFB, will tell us about the numbers that break down childhood hunger county by county.

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TED: Tonight's edition of Arizona Giving and Leading looks at new research on childhood hunger in Arizona, specifically the number of food-insecure kids in counties served by United Food Bank. Joining us is Ginny Hildebrand, United Food Bank's Executive Director. Welcome to Arizona Horizon.

GINNY HILDEBRAND: Thank you.

TED: The new numbers on childhood hunger in Arizona--where do these numbers come from? (12:32 in YouTube video)

GINNY: They come from Feeding America, the National Food Bank Network and Food Research and Action Center, which is the organization that tries to look at this problem nationwide, but these numbers are unique because it takes it down to the county level. We serve in United Food Bank, we serve eastern Arizona and we happen to be the owner of the county with the highest childhood insecurity rate in the country--Apache County.

TED: 42%?

GINNY: 42%.

TED: And Navajo County not far behind

GINNY: 37% in Navajo. And while we look at this and the number of children is not as high as we have in Maricopa County, for instance, but still you realize that 1 out of every two-and-a-half kids in Apache County are not sure where their next food is coming from.

TED: I know the focus of the study was a number of food-insecure kids.
Define that for me.

GINNY: Well, It's children in households that are not sure where their food is going to come from. There are a number of questions that are asked of households. And if they answer yes to a certain number, then they are considered food insecure. What we know is that from our agencies, for instance, that serve in these areas of the state, we're seeing more children, more families with children coming for assistance. And some of them are coming back a bit more frequently than in other areas.

TED: And again, another focus was food insecurity rates. We talk about insecure kids. Food insecurity rates… how does that differ? Or does it?

GINNY: Well, it's pretty close to the same but the rate itself is calculated on all of the people in the county. And so with the children it's a very specific number. So for our particular area of Maricopa County--eastern Maricopa County, we think of it as the East Valley--we're talking about almost 95,000 children.

TED: Yeah, I know as far as food insecure kids, Maricopa County is 25%--250,000 kids. Is that number going up or going down?

GINNY: It's about the same as it was the last year that this was reported, as well. So we're not seeing a huge increase, but we're not seeing the decrease we would have hoped for with the economy getting better. And I think that that's a part of what we're looking at. How do we get that down.

TED: I was going to say, when the economy tanked here, when we had the Great Recession, what was the impact at United Food Bank?

GINNY: Well we were seeing a lot more families that had lost their jobs, lost their homes. They were coming and needing assistance more frequently. We started up our food co-op to give people access to more affordable food, and those kinds of things are important to families when they are struggling.

TED: Yeah and when you deal with these families, I mean, it's more than just feeding a meal, isn't it? There are other aspects involved.

GINNY: We often say that hunger is the tip of the "need iceberg" because oftentimes families also have problems with shelter. They may have problems getting healthcare for their children. They may have trouble getting transportation to their work. Those kinds of things also emanate.

TED: I want to go back to Apache County at 42% of food insecure kids. Navajo County, 37%, Gila County, 32%...what's going on in these places?

GINNY: Well I was just out visiting some of our rural communities recently, and what we see is the struggle to have jobs in those communities. When there has been a downturn and they have lost a lot of jobs, and now they are trying to build back up. I was visiting with the Mayor of Coolidge a couple of weeks ago and he said look at what we've been able to do, reviving the downtown. But he said, we're still working at trying to get those jobs that can sustain people right here in Coolidge.

TED: That would obviously be Pinal County down there. Pinal County was at 26% food insecure kids. We're talking 26,000 children there; that's a lot of kids.

GINNY: It is. It is.

TED: So do these government leaders, do they understand what's happening?
When you talk to them or when you talk to civic leaders or even families in Apache, Navajo County, in these areas, do they understand the problem? Do they have ideas on solutions?

GINNY: I think they understand the problem. I think they are not exactly sure what the solutions are. And that's where not only the Food Bank but also some of our policies at the national level make a difference. Right now we know in Arizona 85% of the kids who were getting school meals during school time do not have access to lunch and breakfast because summer food programs are not necessarily offered in their community. And there may be a number of reasons for that. But the fact of the matter is, that's a huge difference.

TED: For a local food bank, how much national interest, federal help, I don't want to call it intervention but just assistance from other places outside your specific area, how much do you see there?

GINNY: Well, we really see quite a bit. One of the main sources of food for any Food Bank is USDA commodities. It's called the Emergency Food Assistance Program, and that's kind of a channel of food that comes to us. It's really good, solid, non-perishable and some perishable foods.

We get refrigerated and frozen foods; right now our freezer at United Food Bank is stocked full of chicken quarters that are frozen. That's a great product, and our agencies and the people that we serve through them love that product, but we have to make sure that the location we're giving it to has a freezer to maintain the product until we get it in the hands of folks. So some of those kind of complicating factors impact how the policies are made in Washington, and how we can carry out things at the local level.

TED: And as far as the local level is concerned, are you finding that the food banks in general, do they work together? You call it United Food Bank, I would imagine, for a reason, but in general do they work together?

GINNY: They absolutely do. We work together through the Association of Arizona Food Banks in Arizona, and we also work together nationally through Feeding America. We're part of some regional coalitions, as well, and we know that that synergy between other food banks and us makes us stronger, gives us ideas, gives us some resources sometimes.

TED: So with these numbers regarding food insecure kids and food insecurity rates, what do we take from all of this?

GINNY: I think really what I take, I think of it as a mother and a grandmother. Our kids come into this world, and they have a built-in nutrition system if Mom nurses them. But those things that we have learned from organizations like First Things First, those first 1,000 days are really critical. We have done a good job of addressing that I think pretty well. But what we don't know is what's happening after that kid is three-and-a-half years old. And how do we make sure that all of the pieces are in place for them? That they can do well in school. They can get all the learning that they need, and that in fact they are going to be successful in their life.

TED: Are we doing better do you think along those lines?

GINNY: I think we are doing a little better. But we could do much better and that's what I would like to see Arizona doing.

TED: Very good. It's good to have you here. Thank you so much for joining us, we appreciate it.

GINNY:It's good to be here.

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