For families and individuals struggling with food insecurity, it’s often difficult to seek help and share these challenges with others. In an effort to bring these difficulties to light and more adequately address them, the Food Council has established a Food Security Community Advisory Board (FSCAB). 14 community members and 6 food assistance organization representatives were in attendance at the first FSCAB meeting on February 5th, 2019, to have open conversations on the issue of food insecurity in Montgomery County and to discuss ways in which already existing food assistance programs can be improved and if any additional recommendations can be added to the Food Council’s approach in ending food insecurity.
At this meeting, participants were asked to anonymously answer questions about their experience with food access. Some stand out statistics that were gathered from this exercise include:
- 45% of respondents answered “Yes” to having skipped meals or to have eaten less than usual to make food last for themselves or their family in the past 12 months.
- 50% of respondents reported that the grocery store that stocks the foods they would like to eat is too expensive or too far away to visit regularly
- 92% of participants reported not knowing where in the County they could receive information about nutrition, cooking, avoiding waste, and growing food
- 71% of participants believe that improving access to reasonably priced, healthy food is an important strategy in addressing hunger
- “Fear of governmental repercussions” and “difficulties with the application process” were the top two responses to the question of why any eligible respondents have not applied for local and federal nutrition assistance programs.
Advisory Board members then broke off into three groups, facilitated by our Executive Director, Heather Bruskin, and our AmeriCorps VISTA, Quinn Fagan, as well as a group facilitated in Spanish by Diana Tato-Niktash, the Food Security Plan Program Manager at the Department of Health and Human Services. The group discussions were concentrated on retail food access, including challenges related to culturally-appropriate food access, access to nutritious food, accessibility of retail food locations, and retail food store layouts. Participants voiced concerns regarding predatory markets in areas where retail food store access is limited. Attendees also mentioned that grocery store chains tend to be more affordable, but often do not carry culturally appropriate food. Discussion topics across the three groups included:
- Lower cost retail food often being associated with low quality food
- Limited access to affordable food in certain communities and neighborhoods
- Inflated prices for culturally appropriate food in areas where a limited supply those products are available
All attendees were asked to find out if their local grocery stores or markets accept SNAP/WIC, if they carry the types of foods that they would like to eat, and if anything about the layout of the stores makes food access more difficult for certain populations, such as seniors, people with disabilities, and non-English speakers. The next FSCAB meeting will be held on April 11th, and we look forward to learning more from the participants and using these discussions to end hunger in Montgomery County.