JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Child poverty in the United States is at its lowest level in recorded history. The rate of childhood poverty in our country was nearly cut in half from 9.7% in 2020 to 5.2% in 2021 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. While that is great news, nearly 240,000 people in Northeast Florida are food insecure and about 76,000 of those people are children; and those numbers could soon rise.
A large reason why child poverty rates decreased was due to Child Tax Credits as part of the American Rescue Plan that put money into the hands of families. With with many similar programs set to expire, the number of people living below the poverty line may soon increase. That's an event that Feeding Northeast Florida is already preparing for.
On a typical day at Feeding Northeast Florida pallets of food are being moved in order to meet the demand of feeding 85,000 people per day across eight counties. Much like many people who rose above the poverty line due to pandemic related programs, additional government support is also about to dry up for Feeding Northeast Florida.
"It means we have to rely on the network that was already in place," said Molly Sweet, Director of Partnerships and Programs for Feeding Northeast Florida, "coupled with the difficulty of supply chain challenges that we've been facing for several months as well as inflation, things are getting more challenging."
Tightening the belt for an organization is one thing, but children who live in poverty are often at an increased disadvantage when poverty leads to food insecurity.
"I think that it can completely derail success if you're not coming to school with a full belly," said Sweet. "You can't focus and the problems just kind of snowball starting off at a young age if you're always in a deficit. It serves a lot of challenges for our student population."
Aside from providing food to the community, Feeding Northeast Florida also puts together snack bags specifically designed for kids that they can take home when there's not an opportunity for free meals in schools.
The Child Tax Credit gave more families extra money for essentials. Soaring inflation, combined with those funds coming to an end has increased the need for organizations like Feeding Northeast Florida.
"We're seeing a lot of people come who have never needed to come to a food pantry before," said Sweet, "a lot of our clients are working families and although they have an income, it's not enough to make ends meet."
If you are interested in volunteering or donating with Feeding Northeast Florida you can follow this link: https://feedingnefl.org/volunteer/
Feeding Northeast Florida says that every dollar that is donated to them can turn into 6 meals for people in our community.
September is also Hunger Action Month and Feeding Northeast Florida is bringing awareness to hunger through several targeted initiatives including designed food distributions. Local landmarks including Daily's Place, the Acosta Bridge, Florida Blue, UF Health Jacksonville and Laura Street in downtown will display orange lights during the month to raise awareness and stand in solidarity with Feeding Northeast Florida. More information can be found here: https://www.feedingamerica.org/take-action/hunger-action-month
If you are dealing with food insecurity there are multiple food distribution events around the First Coast over the next few days:
Friday September 16th: Interlachen First Baptist Church (115 N. Country Rd 315 Interlachen, FL 32148) at 9am
Friday September 16th: Epic Cure Palatka (389 N. Highway 17 Palatka, FL 32177) at 2pm
Saturday September 17th: St. John the Baptist (2400 Mayport Rd. Atlantic Beach, FL 32233) at 7am
Saturday September 17th: Grace Community Pantry (3570 County Road 205 Bunell, FL 32110) at 10am
Saturday September 17th: Roca de Salvacion Church (9724 Arnold Rd. Jacksonville, FL 32246) at 10am