Almost half of all households with children in Hawaii are “food unsafe”. 15% simply don’t have enough to eat, according to a new report from the University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Social Sciences.
The numbers show that the coronavirus pandemic is still hitting island families hard despite a dramatic expansion of aid programs over the past year and small signs of economic recovery.
The study, “Combating Hunger and Food Insecurity in Hawaii’s Families,” published Thursday reflects local residents’ responses to the US Census Bureau’s budget impulse survey on March 1, as well as interviews with stakeholders and data from various agencies.
“What really worries me is that we’ve seen an increase in service providers, we’ve seen an expansion of benefit programs and meal plans, which is great, but we still see a high demand,” said Anna Pruitt, an author of the report. “And when we look at our data, the people who need services the most are those who are least getting them.”
Pruitt is a community psychologist and member of the faculty of the UH Department of Psychology. Other authors of the report are Jack Barile, interim director of the Social Science Research Institute, and UH colleagues Omar Bird, Brad Nakamura, Yanyan Wu and Wei Zhang.
“Survey data shows that food insecurity for families with children has increased since the beginning of the pandemic and will remain high through 2021,” the report said.
The US Department of Agriculture defines “food security” as sufficient food a family wants. “Low food security” as sufficient, but not the type of food desired; and “very poor food security” as not eating enough.
As of March, 15% of Hawaiian households with children said they did not have enough to eat, 33% had poor food security, and 52% said they were food safe.
Hawaiian residents used to have better food security than the national average, according to Pruitt, but Aloha state is now in worse shape. Of all households across the country, not just those with children, 63% said they were food safe as of February this year, compared to 57% in Hawaii.
“COVID-19 has really affected our unemployment rate in Hawaii, and I think that’s one of the main drivers behind this sharp rise,” said Pruitt.
Virtually all households in Hawaii that did not have enough to eat said they could not, and three-quarters said they had lost work incomes due to the pandemic.
Despite pandemic cash payments, improved federal food benefits, and free take-out meals in schools, some lower rung families are not getting the help they need, especially those with little education.
Only 54% of households with “very poor food security” received free groceries the week before, and the vast majority came from friends and family, not from formal services, the report said. These families are also less likely to receive free meals from schools.
The UH study pointed out several barriers that need to be addressed:
>> Lack of public awareness of available services
>> It’s a shame that you have to use food services
>> Transportation (some food distributions are just drive-up)
>> Difficulty obtaining benefits without a stable address
>> Lack of a nationwide coordinated plan to combat food insecurity
Of all Hawaiian families with children, 23% said they received free food in March. The main sources of such help were food pantries or food banks; Community programs; Family, friends and neighbors; religious institutions; and school and other food programs for children.
The Department of Education quickly switched to offering take-away meals to every child up to the age of 18 when schools closed in March 2020. That program has been extended through the end of this school year and is now running in 194 of the 257 state public schools. Other locations offer free meals only to their enrolled students.
Hawaii Foodbank distributed nearly 26 million pounds of food from March 2020 to February, compared to the 12 million pounds of food spent in a typical fiscal year, according to Marielle Terbio, director of engagement and advocacy at the food bank.
“There are so many people who are unemployed and who need support,” she said. “If you go to the sales offices, you will hear this. They have been unemployed for months and basically rely on this food to support their families. “
In addition to the traditional services that supply pantries and partner agencies with groceries, the grocery bank hosts weekly pop-up food distributions in different regions of the island.
“They fill up within the first five minutes of opening registration,” said Terbio. “We encourage families to visit other sales locations in their area. Our website shows a list, depending on where they live, with days and times they work. “
The UH study calls for tailored approaches to meet the needs of specific communities, including people who are unprotected or in unstable housing and may not be able to safely store food or reap the benefits that they provide to earn.
Possible solutions have been suggested, e.g. B. Contact and delivery services, universal free meals in public schools and the expansion of the Double Up Food Bucks program, which supports both local farmers and hungry people.
It also offered long-term policy solutions such as increasing wages, dealing with housing insecurity and expanding employment opportunities in rural areas.
Despite the challenges, Pruitt was encouraged by how much the community has done to respond to people’s escalating needs over the past year.
“There are so many people and programs that just do an amazing job,” said Pruitt. “How they did that during the pandemic is a mystery to me.”
HOW DO YOU GET HELP?
Visit to Find a Nutritional Aid Program Near You hawaiifoodbank.org/help or call 211.