The Capital Area Food Bank is Taking Hunger off the Map - Capital Area Food Bank
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The Capital Area Food Bank is Taking Hunger off the Map

By Nancy E. Roman December 7, 2015

Solving a problem begins with understanding it. So two years ago, the food bank set about creating a digital map to help us better understand regional hunger. Specifically, we wanted to know – to be able to see, and to show others – where the hunger safety net in the Washington metro area is functioning best, where its holes are, and, most importantly, how our work is helping to fill those holes in.
To build the map, we began by looking first at the current hunger needs throughout our region, using census data about food insecurity in each census tract to create a base layer.
Next, we added in data about our work, allowing us to see the nearly 45 million pounds of food we served to men, women, and children in the community via 444 community partners in the 2015 fiscal year.  We distributed those pounds on the map based on where food insecure individuals live, taking into account their access to a car or public transportation.
The map’s third layer overlays the first two pieces, showing how each area’s need and the food distributed there line up.
It is the map’s final layer that is setting a course for the food bank’s future work.   It highlights areas where the food that the CAFB is distributing is significantly less than the estimated amount of food needed to bridge the gap between what a family can obtain on its own and what it actually requires.
These “hunger hot spots” – which show up bright red on a map consisting largely of blues and pinks – create the guideposts for a new path forward, indicating where more food or different resources are needed.
In suburban Prince William County, for instance, the Hunger Heat made it clear that there is significant hunger but not enough partners to help us meet the need. As a result, the food bank has joined with Shoppers Food to turn a former school bus into a mobile feeding vehicle.  “The Bus”, as it is simply known at the food bank, travels to several sites each day throughout the summer months, providing lunch to children who may often not receive a meal at home when school is out.
The map has also been an important tool in targeting resources for existing programs, such as the food bank’s school-based markets in DC’s Wards 7 and 8, a partnership with the organization Martha’s Table through which parents and children in DC’s wards 7 and 8 are able to choose food together at an in-school, market-style pantry.    The map was used to help the food bank determine which schools to roll the program out at first.
Seeing the powerful ability of this map to guide our own work in such a short amount of time, the food bank quickly realized that the map could inform the work of other organizations and individuals in the broader community as well.  So just after Labor Day of this year, we released the map publicly, making this informative and visually compelling tool a free good for all to use.  In its early days of release, the map had already been viewed by tens of thousands of people. Check it out by following the link from our home page at
As hunger needs shift and change, the Capital Area Food Bank is committed to finding innovative, next generation ways to meet them.   Together with our community, we’re taking hunger off the map – one red spot and one neighbor – at a time.