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The fight against food insecurity extends past the holiday season, expert says

Food insecurity could mean not knowing where your next meal will come from, not being able to get it all the time or even sacrificing basic needs, like bills or rent, to eat. 

In Jefferson County, 86,690 residents don’t have reliable access to nutritious foods. That’s according to 2019 data, the most recent available, from hunger relief organization Feeding America. While 69% of the county’s food insecure residents fall at or below the poverty threshold and are eligible for nutrition assistance programs, the rest exceed income restrictions and aren’t likely to qualify. 

There are several factors that could affect someone’s food security, including:

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated all those issues. There are certain groups that are most likely to lose proper nutrition, such as those who already struggle to make ends meet, have recently experienced a change in employment status or are faced with unexpected expenses.

Stan Siegwald, director of strategic initiatives with nonprofit food bank Dare to Care, said the organization’s goal is to fill the gaps for those who are struggling but don’t qualify for government assistance.

Dare to Care reaches residents of all needs through hundreds of partner agencies in Kentucky and Indiana, including food pantries, soup kitchens and private shelters. People experiencing food insecurity can access those resources through Dare to Care’s website. 

It got its start more than 50 years ago after Bobby Ellis, a nine-year-old Louisville boy, died of malnutrition on Thanksgiving Eve 1969.

“Faith leaders around the community led by a Catholic priest and a Jewish rabbi...their rallying cry was ‘Dare to care,’” Siegwald said. “They went around, picked up canned goods collected in the priest's basement, used his pickup truck to start delivering it and that’s how Dare to Care grew.”

In 2021, the organization distributed the equivalent of 18 million meals within eight Kentucky counties, including Jefferson — and 3.5 million meals across five counties in Indiana. According to Feeding America’s projections for this year, Kentucky is one of 12 states with the lowest rates of food security.

Siegwald said donations increase around the last three months of the year, but the issue persists long after the holidays are over. 

“Our community's awareness of those issues heightens during the season when we celebrate family and community and generosity, but the reality is the need for helping our neighbors who are struggling is year-round,” Siegwald said.

People can donate food directly to Dare to Care or designated drop-off barrels at Kroger grocery stores. But Siegwald said the COVID-19 pandemic has created obstacles to sourcing unrefined foods and produce, so monetary giving may better support the organization’s efforts. 

“Pre-pandemic, we were always able to purchase [produce] at an extremely discounted price because we were buying industry surplus. Now that industry surplus is gone and the prices we are paying are much closer to retail so that's creating a budgetary strain on us,” Siegwald said. 

Siegwald added sorting through the food is labor-intensive and requires paid staff and volunteers — something that the organization had to dial back on to keep people safe and distanced during the pandemic.