2019 Map the Meal Gap displaying county and city level food insecurity hits home


“Food insecurity” is the lack of reliable access to enough nutritious food for a person to lead an active, healthy life. One out of eight Americans experiences food insecurity and earlier this month, Feeding America of Southwest Virginia presented the 2019 Feeding America “Map the Meal Gap,” an interactive map of the U.S., displaying food insecurity data for every county and city in the nation.

Remaining among the top three localities for food insecurity is Radford City at 19.6 percent following Martinsville City, at 20.3 percent, and Danville City at 19.9 percent

In 2018, ten localities in Southwest Virginia saw overall increases in their food insecurity rate: Alleghany County, Bedford County, Botetourt County, Franklin County, Grayson County, Pulaski County, Roanoke County, Smyth County, Washington County and Bristol City.

The map is designed to let policymakers, state agencies, corporate partners, food banks and advocates integrate their strategies for fighting hunger on a community level.

Its title “Meal Gap,” captures the phenomena that food insecurity may be experienced not only by people who earn below the poverty level and qualify for assistance, but also the working poor who make too much money to qualify for food assistance, but not enough to maintain food security at home, falling into a “Meal Gap”.

Nearly a quarter of Southwest Virginia residents who are food insecure are likely ineligible for federal nutrition assistance under current program requirements, falling into that gap, the study finds.

Despite national measures from the USDA that indicate an overall improvement, more can be done the announcement from Feeding America of Southwest Virginia said.

“Food insecurity remains a critical issue in Southwest Virginia, even as the country has seen positive movement in economic and other factors,” said Pamela Irvine, chief executive officer of Feeding America Southwest Virginia.

Children are especially vulnerable to food insecurity the report says: 16.9 percent of children are food insecure compared to 12.1 percent food insecurity for the overall population of Southwest Virginia.

“Children are more affected by the circumstances of their families,” Amanda Allen, Marketing and Communications Coordinator at Feeding America Southwest Virginia.

“Job loss and medical conditions affect food access in a household. A child can’t just get up and change their circumstances.”

Food insecurity exists in every county in Feeding America Southwest Virginia’s service area. Botetourt County registers the lowest at 6.9 percent, and the organization says citizens can solve the problem of hunger by understanding the problem and engaging politically, especially child hunger.

“There isn’t a single state or county in America free from child hunger,” Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, chief executive officer of Feeding America said in the map announcement, “and it is within our collective power to change that and ensure that today’s children are tomorrow’s leaders.”

The problem can be solved, said Babineaux-Fontenot urging everyone to visit the map, understand the data and get involved in solving the problem by contacting their Congressional representatives.

“It is especially serious when we consider the effects of food insecurity on our children. Without proper nutrition, we know that children’s physical, mental and emotional health suffer, and they cannot reach their potential,” she continued. “Feeding America Southwest Virginia is dedicated to supporting the health of children and families through a variety of programs and services provided by our dedicated supporters.”

Feeding America Southwest Virginia is a member of Feeding America’s hunger-relief network comprised of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs that together provide food assistance to more than 40 million people in the U.S. struggling with hunger.

Last year, Feeding America Southwest Virginia provided 118,107 individuals per month with meals and/or groceries through 354  partner feeding programs.

The map was made using data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and food price data and analysis provided by Nielsen, a global provider of information and insights, the study is supported by The Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Conagra Brands Foundation and Nielsen.

The study’s findings underscore the extent of need that remains in communities in Southwest Virginia and across the U.S., despite national measures from the USDA that indicate overall improvement.

A summary of the findings, the interactive map and the full report are available at map.feedingamerica.org.