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Where the Rebound Ends: New Report Shows Growth in "Meal Gap" in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties Despite Improving Economy

SAN JOSE and SANTA CLARA, Calif., January 24, 2014– While the number of people who can't meet their daily food needs in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties leveled off in the most recent year, the "meal gap" grew by 4 percent due to higher food prices and other factors, according to new data released today by Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties and Santa Clara University.

The data was contained in the 2012 Hunger Index, which measures the gap between how many meals are needed for low-income residents in the two-county region to eat three meals a day and how many meals they are able to purchase on their own or acquire through federal food-assistance programs like CalFresh (food stamps) or local organizations like Second Harvest. The difference is known as the "meal gap."

Hunger Index

The Hunger Index was released during the sixth annual forum focused on hunger in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, now called the Hunger Action Summit. The event was held at Santa Clara University and is designed to bring together community leaders to find innovative solutions and take action to end local hunger.

The 2012 Hunger Index shows that an estimated 823 million meals were required for all low-income residents in 2012. Researchers estimate that these families were able to afford enough food to provide 422 million meals, or slightly more than half of their daily food needs. Food-assistance programs provided 197 million meals, leaving a gap of 204 million meals.

While the number of low-income families remained relatively stable, the meal gap grew by 8 million meals – to 204 million in 2012 from 196 million in 2011 – despite an increase in food assistance to 197 million meals in 2012 from 188 million meals in 2011. The majority of those assisted meals (54 percent) were provided by CalFresh, followed by Second Harvest Food Bank (19 percent).

"What we saw this year is that the number of meals required hasn't changed dramatically, but in the aggregate, families are finding it difficult to keep up with food inflation and other factors," said S. Andrew Starbird, dean of Santa Clara University's Leavey School of Business and co-creator of the Hunger Index. "Second Harvest and the food-assistance community really stepped up their efforts to meet a larger proportion of increased needs."

The number of vulnerable households – measured as those earning less than $50,000 annually – stayed relatively stable at about 260,000 families. The average annual income needed for a family of three to be economically self-sufficient in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties has been set in recent years at about $90,000 by the California Budget Project. That figure takes into account costs like housing, health care, and child care.

"The high cost of living makes it difficult for local families to put food on the table, and with the improving economy, the cost of housing and other essentials is rising," said Kathy Jackson, CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank. "The number of people we serve jumped 50 percent after the recession started and continues to edge up. At Second Harvest, we are working to close this gap by ensuring that anyone who needs a meal can get one through traditional food-assistance efforts as well as innovative programs that reduce food waste and instead get that food into the hands of people who need it. Our strategy also includes continuing to streamline our already highly efficient operations to get more food out into the community and leveraging other food-assistance resources such as CalFresh."

Second Harvest

To ensure that eligible families can participate in CalFresh, Second Harvest has a multilingual team of specialists who work out in the community helping families and individuals apply for the food-assistance program. California has one of the lowest participation rates, which means local children and families are needlessly going hungry and the local economy is losing out on millions of dollars every year.

Second Harvest provides food to more than 250,000 people every month. The Food Bank partners with more than 330 nonprofit agencies to distribute food at more than 770 sites throughout Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, including pantries, soup kitchens, community centers, and shelters. Last year, Second Harvest distributed more than 52 million pounds of food. An additional 5.2 million pounds of food was provided through Second Harvest's efforts to connect people to CalFresh.

2014 Hunger Action Summit

The newly named Hunger Action Summit is held each year to focus attention on local hunger and is sponsored by the Santa Clara University Leavey School of Business and its Food and Agribusiness Institute. With the theme "Turning Fresh Ideas Into Action," the summit featured a number of speakers who provided innovative ideas and practical solutions for ending hunger.

Pediatrician Dr. Deborah A. Frank, director of Boston Medical Center's Grow Clinic for Children and founder and principal investigator of Children's HealthWatch, spoke about the impacts of hunger on health from the prenatal period through adolescence. She also talked about the cost-effectiveness of publicly funded nutrition programs such as Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and SNAP.

The Alliance to Transform CalFresh activist Kim McCoy Wade talked about "The Unmet Potential of SNAP," the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which funds CalFresh.

SCU students Selena Pistoresi, Lisa McMonagle, and Theresa Gordon discussed their research project, "The Cost of a Healthy Meal," co-funded by Bank of America, which for the last several years has been supporting hunger-related research and projects at SCU.

"Bank of America is pleased to be part of the Hunger Action Summit and proud to support the important research on hunger issues and the cost of healthy meal conducted by Santa Clara University," said Raquel Gonzales, Silicon Valley Market president at Bank of America. "The research displayed in the program gives us a real understanding of hunger issues in Silicon Valley, and arms outstanding organizations like Second Harvest Food Bank with the data they need to fight hunger in our community."

Sumit Sadana, executive vice president and chief strategy officer at SanDisk, presented "Feeding a Million Kids a Day: Learning From Akshaya Patra." Sadana, who serves on Second Harvest Food Bank's Board of Directors, explained how Patra has used technology and innovative distribution efforts to feed hungry children in India. Through this effort, the program grew from providing 1,500 meals to children in five schools to feeding 1.3 million children in more than 9,000 schools.

Cindy McCown, vice president of programs and services at Second Harvest, talked about the current state of hunger in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties and why hunger is so prevalent in such a wealthy area. She explained how Second Harvest's strategic initiatives and distribution partnerships are helping to get more nutritious food to people in need.

Finally, Jackson, who is also a Feeding America Board member, highlighted some of the most exciting innovations across the nationwide Feeding America network of 202 food banks. She discussed how food banks are using technology in new ways, developing ground-breaking partnerships, reducing food waste through food rescue programs, eliminating food deserts, and empowering local communities.

About Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties

Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties is the trusted leader dedicated to ending local hunger. Since its inception in 1974, Second Harvest has become one of the largest food banks in the nation, providing food to more than one quarter of a million people each month. The Food Bank mobilizes individuals, companies and community partners to connect people to the nutritious food they need. More than half of the food distributed is fresh produce. Second Harvest also plays a leading role in promoting federal nutrition programs and educating families on how to make healthier food choices. Visit www.SHFB.orgto get involved.

About Santa Clara University

Santa Clara University, a comprehensive Jesuit, Catholic university located 40 miles south of San Francisco in California's Silicon Valley, offers its more than 8,800 students rigorous undergraduate curricula in arts and sciences, business, theology, and engineering, plus master's and law degrees and engineering Ph.D.s. Distinguished nationally by one of the highest graduation rates among all U.S. master's universities, California's oldest operating higher-education institution demonstrates faith-inspired values of ethics and social justice. For more information, see www.scu.edu.