One in every six Americans is living in a state of food insecurity, according to Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief charity. Local charities said the proportion is even higher in Alachua County, but the Strike Out Hunger Food Drive on Monday is the community’s latest effort to keep food pantries stocked.
Despite a 17.5 percent drop in homelessness across the state and a decrease in Florida’s unemployment rate, the homeless population of Alachua County has increased 59 percent, according to the 2013 Council on Homelessness report.
This means lines at local food pantries are getting longer.
As many as one in five adults and one in four children in Alachua County is “food insecure,” said John Barli, regional director of Catholic Charities in Gainesville.
But hungry doesn’t necessarily mean homeless. The vast majority of people who do not have access to food are employed, he said.
“They were working — renting a mobile home in Gainesville,” Barli said as an example. “And like so many renters in Gainesville, they had no renter’s insurance.
Gainesville is a minimum wage town where many working people are simply not being paid the wage they need to get by, Barli said.
“Because we’ve got so many students here to take jobs, you don’t have to pay a lot,” Barli said.
The Bread of the Mighty Food Bank serves 134 agencies in five counties. Although the state economy seems to be improving, the food bank is struggling to provide for the growing number of people in need of meals, said Michael Demers, development coordinator.
Demers said the lines there haven’t shortened.
“We have increased our amount of food almost double over the last three years and we still can’t keep up,” he said.
According to national statistics from Feeding America — which oversees food banks around the country — Bread of the Mighty should output 10 million pounds of food a year to the five counties in its district: Alachua, Dixie, Gilchrist, Levy and Lafayette.
“We’re only right now at six million pounds,” Demers said. “We still have a ways to go.”
Bread of the Mighty and Catholic Charities are among the organizations served by the Strike Out Hunger Food Drive.
The annual drive is sponsored by the Long Foundation and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission of Florida, and co-sponsored by Gainesville, Alachua County government and Alachua County Nutrition Alliance.
Last year, the Strike Out Hunger Food Drive collected 78,000 pounds of food and gave away 800 Thanksgiving baskets to needy families, said Rodney Long, president and CEO of both the Long Foundation and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commission. This year, the goal is 100,000 pounds of food and 1,000 baskets.
“Our food banks and pantries during this time of the year and going into the first quarter of next year are almost bare,” Long said. “We’re trying to raise non-perishable food items that will be able to sustain them going through this holiday period.”
More people need food now than they did this time last year, Long said.
“There are more people in poverty now than there have ever been in America and it’s attributed to a lot of factors,” Long said. “People weren’t able to find jobs after the downturn in the economy. People who had jobs, who normally wouldn’t find themselves needing food assistance, are now needing food assistance.”
The food drive will be held Monday at the Alachua County Fairgrounds. People can drop off non-perishable food items from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Donated food items will be sorted and organized Tuesday, and will be picked up from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday by local food banks and pantries.