Food insecurity in Nebraska and how one woman works to feed her family

Inside the Food Bank of Lincoln, which distributed 10 million pounds of food last year (image by Dylan Tilley, NET)
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June 19, 2017 - 10:41am

More than 200,000 Nebraskans don’t have consistent access to adequate food. Mike Tobias looks at the numbers and talks with one Nebraskan who deals with the challenge of feeding herself and her family.


VIDEO: Ryan Bailey and Scott Young discuss hunger issues with Mike Tobias (left to right) for the NET News "Speaking of Nebraska" program. Watch the full show HERE.

 


Lorraine Maddux is one of more than 230,000 food insecure Nebraskans (image by Dylan Tilley, NET)

 


Food Bank of Lincoln volunteers bag apples for distribution (image by Dylan Tilley, NET)

Lorraine Maddux was having a good day when I met her one afternoon at the Food Bank of Lincoln. She was finishing paperwork to buy a house and had received a promotion at work. But life hasn’t always been easy for Maddux. Five years ago she moved here from Florida with her husband and three children, because this was the best place for her youngest to get care for a disease that causes fragile bones to break easily. She got divorced and missed a lot of work caring for her ailing daughter. Feeding her family became a challenge.

“I definitely have weeks when I'm writing that budget that I think, ‘Okay, where is it going to stretch this week? Where am I going to go to get the fillers,’” Maddux said.

Maddux doesn’t qualify for some government aid programs like food stamps. She does get help from her ex-husband, and occasionally turns to food pantries and other programs to make ends meet.

“You're paying the bills and barely paying the bills and extras and summertime is always hard when the kids are out on vacation,” she said. “It's hard because they get free or reduced lunches at school and all of a sudden you have three months where there's no provided breakfast or lunch, and all of a sudden you have extra people who you have to account for two more meals in the day. It makes it rough.”

Maddux is one of 233,350 Nebraskans who are considered food insecure because they don’t have regular access to adequate food. That’s 12.3 percent of our population, according to the latest Map the Meal Gap report from Feeding America, a national food bank network.

“Most of the people we serve are working Nebraskans who are just struggling to get by,” said Ryan Bailey, family and community services manager for Blue Valley Community Action in Fairbury, an organization that among other services runs food pantries in nine southeast Nebraska counties. “What we see are folks who are genuinely working, working hard, working overtime, who do not have enough money to pay the rent at the end of the month or buy food for their kids. We see people coming in all the time with that choice to make. Do we keep the lights on? Do we pay the rent? Or do we feed our children?”

“We have working families in Nebraska who are just ending up with more month than there is money and might need a little extra assistance during the end of the month,” added Scott Young, executive director of the Food Bank of Lincoln. “We have seniors on a fixed income who don't come close any month, but due to pride issues and things like that for Nebraskans, they struggle to get enough good on their tables.”

A few more numbers from the new Map the Meal Gap report for Nebraska:

  • Colfax County has the state’s lowest food insecurity rate at 4.7 percent.
  • Thurston County has the state’s highest food insecurity rate at 18.8 percent.
  • Douglas (13.8 percent) and Lancaster (13.9 percent) have food insecurity rates higher than the state average.
  • 18.3 percent of children are food insecure

And on average, food insecure Nebraskans face a food budget shortfall of $16.38 each week. “That means maybe three or four meals a week that a family might be short,” Young said. “These are all statistics that are thrown together into a big jug and then out they come. So it does vary from household to household. But it just means that there are meal shortages. A lot of parents anecdotally skip meals so that their kids can eat. Those types of stories come to the Food Bank all the time.”

A lot of food also comes to the Food Bank of Lincoln. They distributed about 10 million pounds of food last year. It comes from places like the USDA, farms, supermarkets and local food drives. It goes to food pantries and other places who get it to those who need it. And more need it, according to Bailey and Young. They’ve each been working on this issue for more than 15 years.

“I think the issue has definitely gotten worse,” Bailey reflected. “It has changed over the years. It's just amazing to me how the economy has really affected us. It seemed like it affected us later, the downturn in economy that the rest of the nation saw several years ago. It came to us later in the rural areas, it felt like.”

“When I started at the Food Bank we had a lot of posters up that said, ‘one in 10 children are struggling with hunger.’ Now it's one in five or six,” Young said.

Lorraine Maddux hopes her pay raise will help her move away from needing help feeding herself and her kids, and escape so-called food insecurity.

“It's an embarrassing place to be,” Maddux said. “It's not where you want to be. I think the misconception, there are some that fit in that group, that they're not working or they're not making the effort, but the misconception is that everybody in that group chooses to be.”

And Maddux says like herself, that’s not always the case.

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