Stemming the Rising Tide of Suburban Hunger

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Today, about 40 percent of the world’s population lives in cities. By 2050, the number of people living in cities will climb to 70 percent. This swift urbanization of hunger and poverty has had real consequences outside of urban centers too, moving just outside of cities as housing and other costs rise in city centers. This has certainly been the case in our very own Washington suburbs.

Take Prince Georges County, where rates of food insecurity among residents have hit near-emergency levels: 15.5 percent, as contrasted with DC where, even in a high-need urban center, rates are fully two percentage points lower. Food insecurity increased in 216 census tracts across the Washington metro area from 2014 – 2016, and of those, 45% are in Prince George’s County.

Elizabeth Kneebone, a fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings and co-author of Confronting Suburban Poverty in America says the geography of poverty and opportunity has changed. From 2000 to 2011, the poor population in the suburbs grew by 64 percent—more than twice the 29 percent growth in cities.

That’s a whopping change – we see it in bright red on our Hunger Heat Map. And it’s also a call to action. As we direct our resources to areas of greatest need in urban areas, we are also stepping up our work in suburban communities to tackle the areas where there are deep pockets of hunger, and strengthening the overall food safety net.

What does this look like?

In Prince George’s County, the food bank is making an investment of $3 million this year with the goal of dramatically improving long-overdue access to food and programming for children, seniors, and families. Among other things, this investment is going into:

  • Increasing the amount of food we distribute into the county, up by 200,000 pounds in the first five months of the year.
  • Increasing the number of places where we serve after-school meals to children.
  • Creating fresh produce “hubs” to up the amount of fruits and vegetables that we distribute.
  • Reaching more kids and families through the expansion of free school-based markets.
  • Improving service to the County through a cross-docking facility at Shabach! in Glenarden, which will make it easier for our 143 partners in the region to pick up the produce and groceries they need to feed the families and kids in their community.

And in Northern Virginia, our team is designing, programming, and delivering food to hundreds of thousands of men, women and children all across the region.

  • We distribute millions of pounds of food, including fruits and vegetables.
  • Using food from the CAFB, 18 of our partners provide meals for over 700 children each weekend.
  • 28 partners were able to feed a nutritious meal and/or snacks to over 1,100 children every day of the school year, and 21 of these partners served meals every week over the summer.
  • 11 Senior Brown Bag locations, using food from the CAFB, provide nutritious supplemental food each month for over 600 seniors. And we will be taking a look at what more we might do in senior hunger.
  • During the summer months, we’re using a retrofitted school bus, sponsored by Shoppers, to reach children with meals when they can’t make it to a rec center or other meal site during out of school times.

Hunger knows no age, no race, no religion and increasingly, no zip code. The Capital Area Food Bank is committed to tackling this tough challenge, and to finding ways to reach children, seniors, and families with good food no matter where they live.