It is disheartening to hear stories about our state’s youth going to school hungry. And yet it happens, and in startling numbers. Late last week, we reported on some of the findings. The results, indeed, require a call to action.

The Vermont Foodbank announced the release of “Map the Meal Gap 2019,” the latest report by Feeding America on food insecurity and the cost of food at both the county and congressional district level. It is the only study that provides food insecurity data at the local level.

What it found is heartbreaking news for all of Vermont.

“Map the Meal Gap 2019” reveals that food insecurity exists in every county in Vermont. It also shows that children are more likely to be food insecure, with the child food insecurity rate at 15.9% compared to 11.9% for the overall population of Vermont.

“There isn’t a single state or county in America free from child hunger, and it is within our collective power to change that and ensure that today’s children are tomorrow’s leaders,” said Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, chief executive officer of Feeding America. “The Feeding America nationwide network of food banks is investing in our nation’s future by helping to provide over 146 million meals to children every year.”

Still, more must be done. Together, food banks, corporations, policymakers, donors, volunteers and advocates can solve hunger. Here in Vermont, we have solid avenues toward making such strides. And yet, too many of our children are suffering from hunger.

Among the key local findings:

— 74,520 people in Vermont (11.9%) are food insecure.

— Of those people, 40% likely do not qualify for federal nutrition programs.

— In Vermont, 18,760 children are food insecure.

— Overall food insecurity in Vermont ranges from a low of 9.6% of the population in Grand Isle County, up to 13.1% in Essex County.

The study’s findings underscore the extent of need that remains in communities in Vermont and across the United States, despite national measures from the USDA that indicate overall improvement.

The analysis also finds that 40% of Vermont residents who are food insecure are likely ineligible for federal nutrition assistance under current program requirements. This means that many households must rely even more on charitable food assistance from the Vermont Foodbank and its network.

“Without the support of the Vermont Foodbank and our network of 215 food shelves and meal sites throughout the state, the nearly 30,000 individuals who are food insecure but do not qualify for federal nutrition programs would have nowhere to turn for help,” said Vermont Foodbank CEO John Sayles in a news release. “It is critical for us to work together to meet that need and to advocate for policy changes to better support our neighbors facing hunger.”

Sayles is talking about a piece of the answer, and the Foodbank does its share in providing services and solutions.

The Vermont Foodbank 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. The Vermont Foodbank is the state’s largest hunger-relief organization, providing nutritious food and promoting health through a network of 215 food shelves, meal sites, senior centers and after-school programs, and directly to families, children, older adults and individuals at schools and hospitals. Last year, the Vermont Foodbank distributed more than 12 million pounds of food to people in the state struggling with hunger.

Elsewhere in the state, there are highly successful gleaning programs, like Salvation Farms in Morrisville, that aim to reduce food loss on farms, increase use of locally grown foods, and foster an appreciation for Vermont’s agricultural heritage and future.

It all comes down to making food available.

“Map the Meal Gap 2019” uses 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.

It is one more tool we all need to ensure our children are safe and secure — in life, and without hunger.

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

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