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Access to food: N.D., Minn. have lowest ‘food insecurity’ rates in U.S.

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FARGO — North Dakota is keeping its low-income residents better fed than other states, according to a national hunger relief charity.

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In 2012, North Dakota had the lowest rate of food insecurity in the nation at 7.7 percent, followed by Minnesota at 10.7 percent, according to a report by Feeding America, which used data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Nationally, 49 million people, about 15.9 percent or nearly one in six people, are considered food insecure, Feeding America reports

The rate of food insecurity is higher for children, 21.6 percent, or more than one in five.

Food insecurity is a lack of access, at times, to enough food for a healthy lifestyle for everyone in a household, Feeding America says.

Other states doing much better than the national average in dealing with food insecurity are New Hampshire (10.9 percent), Massachusetts (11.9 percent), Virginia (12.1 percent) and South Dakota (12.3 percent).

The worst levels of food insecurity were in Mississippi (22.3 percent), Arkansas (19.4 percent), Georgia (18.9 percent), and Alabama, New Mexico and North Carolina (18.6 percent), Feeding America reported.

The effects of the Great Recession are still lingering. The number of people living in food insecurity rose 35 percent in the first year of the recession (2007 to 2008) and hasn’t abated, Feeding America reported.

Meanwhile, cutbacks in the federal food stamp program mean less money for food and more trips to food banks for many families, local officials said.

In 2013, the Great Plains Food Bank in Fargo distributed enough food for 10.7 million meals, up 15 percent from 2012, said Marcia Paulson, director of marketing and development

“North Dakota is doing some things right, clearly,” Paulson said Thursday. “Our (food insecurity) numbers are much better than others. But our numbers (of people being served) have gone up since our last report. That says something, too.”

She said Great Plains is reaching out to rural areas with mobile food banks and getting fresh produce to reservation communities.

Seniors are a fast-growing clientele, particularly in the west, where prices for food, services, housing and utilities have risen far faster than fixed incomes can handle with the boom in the Oil Patch, Paulson said.

Many families also still don’t accept help from the federal free and reduced-price lunch program for their children, she said.

“In the eyes of great prosperity, we certainly have growing disparity,” Paulson said. “The lines (at food pantries) are longer. They’re serving more people. And they’re serving more people more often. We’re kind of holding our own, but not going in the right direction,” Paulson said.

In 2012, the food insecurity rate for North Dakota’s Cass County was 7.7 percent, or 54,140 people. For children, it’s higher: 10.6 percent, or 16,350 children.

Stutsman County area

Stutsman County and the four counties immediately surrounding it have an average food insecurity rate of 7.0 percent or slightly better than the North Dakota average of 7.7 percent.

Foster and LaMoure counties showed the lowest rates with 6.6 percent at Foster and 5.7 percent at LaMoure.

Kidder County reported the highest rate at 8.2 percent. The study estimates 15 percent of children in Kidder County do not have food security.

Stutsman and Barnes counties were both at 7.3 percent. Stutsman County reports 11 percent of children face food insecurity while 9.1 percent of Barnes County children face the same situation.

The study reported 1,530 people including 490 children facing food insecurity in Stutsman County.

The 7 percent food insecurity rate for the five-county area amounts to 2,960 people. Feeding America estimates it would cost about $1.5 million to provide food security to all in the five-county area.

Elsewhere in North Dakota:

* Traill County, 6.8 percent overall, 11 percent for children.

* Richland County, 7.4 percent overall, 11.3 percent for children.

Other North Dakota counties had far higher food insecurity rates:

* Rolette County, 16.2 percent overall, 27.2 percent for children.

* Sioux County, 17.6 percent overall, 28.9 percent for children.

* Benson County, 14.4 percent overall, 25.8 percent for children.

Minnesota

In Minnesota’s Clay County, 10 percent, or 5,870 people, saw food insecurity. For children, the rate was 14.8 percent, or 2,010 kids.

In nearby Minnesota counties:

— Norman County had 9.3 percent food insecurity overall, 16.1 percent for children.

— Becker County, 9.7 percent overall, 17.5 percent for children.

— Otter Tail County, 9.7 percent overall, 16.8 percent for children.

— Wilkin County, 7.5 percent overall, 13.1 percent for children.

— Mahnomen County, 14 percent overall, 26.9 percent for children.

Greg Diehl, administrator of the Emergency Food Pantry in north Fargo, said demand has risen 10 percent every year since 2008, with a 15 percent bump in 2013.

Last year, the pantry provided food to 30,061 individuals representing 9,037 households, Diehl said.

Unduplicated numbers show that 16,871 individuals representing 4,944 homes in Cass and Clay counties got help in 2013, he said. That added up to 1.3 million pounds of food.

Since 2012, the pantry has put perishable fruits, vegetables and bread in its lobby, along with cans nearing the end of their shelf lives, for people who need extra help to make ends meet.

From December to March, the number of individuals accessing the lobby food has risen from 979 to 2,167, Diehl said.

Much of the lobby increase is tied to cutbacks in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), he said.

“It used to be the last weekend of the month (that pantry workers saw people using the lobby). Now they see them at the third weekend of the month. So their food stamps don’t stretch as far,” Diehl said.

This past winter stressed budgets, too, Diehl said.

“We all need food to live and survive. At the same time, it’s one of the costs that is flexible, as you will,” he said. “They (clients) have to pay their rent, utility bills and they have to put gas in their cars. You don’t want to get tossed out on the street, so they skimp on food.”

The YWCA Cass Clay food pantry in Fargo gave out 6,419 food boxes to individuals in 2013, about the same as 2012, said agency spokeswoman Katie McCormick.

“We work with members of the community who are often a paycheck away from becoming homeless,” she said. “A lot of times they’ll come from situations where they’ve just lost a job.”

Paulson and Diehl say North Dakota’s reputation as a “land of milk and honey” for work has also attracted many people who arrive unprepared: no jobs, no housing.

“All of a sudden, they need everything,” Diehl said. “They’re not making it where they’re at and they see North Dakota is the place to be. But if you come to North Dakota without a job or a skill,” the state is no better than where they came from, he said.

The Jamestown Sun contributed to this story

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