Spark Hope: Community Support Needed in Battle Against Holiday Hunger
IMPERIAL – As many prepare to spend the upcoming holidays sharing hearty meals with loved ones, a drastically different reality confronts many Imperial County families struggling with food insecurity.
“Many working families, veterans, seniors and children routinely balance full lives with empty cupboards and skipped meals,” shared Sara Griffen, Executive Director of the Imperial Valley Food Bank. “This holiday season is especially difficult for families struggling to stay fed as inflation continues to rise and the County confronts the highest rate of unemployment in California.”
Griffen references a recent report released by the state’s Employment Development Department, which showed Imperial County had a 19 percent unemployment rate in October. This finding suggests at least 16,000 Imperial County residents do not have a consistent source of income entering the holiday months.
Food insecurity, as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), is the lack of consistent access to enough food to live an active, healthy life. The COVID-19 pandemic, while bringing economic downturn, did not significantly worsen national food insecurity levels, thanks in part to a surge in federal, local, and private programs aimed at addressing the crisis, explained Griffen. However, disparities in food insecurity remain stark, particularly among communities of color, households with children, veterans, and those affected by unemployment and poverty, according to Feeding America’s recent Map the Meal Gap 2023 report.
People facing hunger report needing over $20 more per week to buy just enough food to meet their needs. This is $53 more each month. After adjusting for inflation, this represents an increase of nearly 16 percent from 2020 and highlights the ongoing financial challenges people are facing in securing adequate nutrition, according to Feeding America findings.
“Hunger is something that you cannot see,” said former food bank client Jesse, who asked for his last name to remain anonymous. “You see me here with a shirt, tie, slacks, but you don’t know if I have milk in my fridge or eggs or bread.”
Born and raised in Imperial County, Jesse's experience with food insecurity began in childhood while living with his family in Heber. From waking up to mix powdered milk for cereal to standing in the food bank’s monthly food distribution line with his grandmother for food, Jesse's story is a poignant reminder of the everyday realities faced by many in the county.
“If you could see the impact that your donation makes and how many smiles it puts on those families faces when they have very little or no food... families are overtaken with tears by simply receiving food,” Jesse said. “Understand that your donation has the biggest impact."
As the holiday season quickly approaches, let us remember the power of collective action and the difference we can make in the lives of our neighbors. The fight against food insecurity in Imperial County is a collective effort that requires the support and compassion of the entire community.
If you would like to help support individuals facing food insecurity, please consider donating today. To learn more about donating, click here.
If you need food assistance, please call the food bank at 760-370-0966 and a bilingual food counselor will be able to assist you.