Addressing Hunger in San Diego County: A Call for Equitable Solutions

by Ella

The prevailing image of hunger often conjures thoughts of individuals experiencing homelessness or those relying on government aid for sustenance. While these stereotypes shed light on certain aspects of food insecurity, they merely scratch the surface of a pervasive issue that affects diverse populations.

Among the most overlooked groups grappling with hunger are low-income earners, individuals in working families who often hold down multiple jobs but find themselves struggling to make ends meet. In our county, a staggering 30 percent of full-time workers earn less than $35,000 annually. The relentless rise in housing costs, the soaring cost of living, and stagnant wages present these individuals with a grim choice: allocate their income to rent, utilities, medications, or groceries.


These statistics are not merely troubling; they are deeply disheartening and infuriating.


As of December 2022, the San Diego Hunger Coalition estimated that 23 percent of San Diego County residents faced nutrition insecurity. This term refers to individuals living in households without sufficient income to afford three nutritious meals a day. For those with disabilities, this rate surged to 35 percent. Among individuals over the age of 60, 22 percent experienced food insecurity, while for children, the figure stood at 29 percent.


Consider the story of Joe and Simone, a family that has found solace in the Community Resource Center’s food pantry. Their financial struggles intensified with the surge in gas prices. Joe earns a livelihood as a taxi driver, while Simone operates a home-based business to supplement their income. With high schoolers to support at home, they turn to the pantry to bolster their food supplies.


In March 2023, following the conclusion of emergency allotments from CalFresh, California’s supplemental food assistance program, food banks and pantries faced heightened demand. Individuals who had relied on those monthly benefits turned to charitable food distributions to compensate for the loss. This shift is underscored by a striking 46 percent increase in participants at our food pantry during May, June, and July compared to the same period the previous year.

Hunger also leaves a profound impact on older adults, many of whom subsist on fixed incomes that may prove insufficient to meet their needs, particularly as medical expenses tend to rise with age. The Community Resource Center’s food pantry observed a 28 percent surge in older adults seeking assistance this summer compared to the previous year. This increase coincided with a 40 percent rise in older adults urgently requiring food assistance, reflecting their financial shortfalls in affording sustenance. Additionally, there was a disheartening 64 percent surge in older adults experiencing homelessness.

Yet, perhaps the most heart-wrenching facet of hunger is its impact on children. Childhood hunger can cast long shadows, hindering concentration in school and jeopardizing overall well-being. In a nation endowed with vast wealth, skills, and resources, it is unfathomable that so many children, the future of our nation, suffer from inadequate access to food. Hunger is not just an economic challenge; it is a moral one.

To grasp the true face of those seeking food assistance from pantries, we must acknowledge the diversity of San Diego County. Hunger knows no discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, age, or geographic location. In every corner of our county, individuals and families grapple with the challenge of putting food on the table. They could very well be your neighbors.

Seeking food assistance is a difficult step for many, often accompanied by feelings of shame. One way to alleviate this is by offering the dignity of choice in our food pantry. Participants can select foods that align with their preferences and dietary needs. Our food supply, which includes fresh produce, meat, dairy, eggs, and nonperishable items, comes from a variety of sources, including grocery stores, markets, community groups, and individuals. It encompasses healthy and nutritious offerings, amounting to more than 600,000 pounds annually.

As we unveil the diverse faces of hunger during San Diego Hunger Awareness Month, it becomes evident that effective combatting of this issue necessitates addressing not only immediate relief but also the root causes of food insecurity. This calls for concerted efforts towards a more equitable and just society where all have access to nutritious food and the opportunity to thrive.



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