Food Security Coalition delves into gaps that limit access to food
By Catherine Ferguson SNJM
When Natalie Tauzin of the Spokane Regional Health District (SRH) looks at food insecurity in Spokane County from a public health perspective, she observes systems and policies that drive gaps in access that lead to food security.
Barriers could be minimized by understanding that food insecurity is about survival for hungry people, she said.
Natalie, a registered dietitian with a master's degree in public health, assists the SRHD's Health Promotion/Healthy Communities efforts related to food security.
Food security concerns led her to help the SRHD form the Spokane County Food Security Coalition in March 2020 to bring together organizations in the county aware of the increase in food insecurity and its impact on children.
Natalie outlined definitions and data:
• Food insecurity means that households have limited or uncertain access to adequate food as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
• According to a WAFOOD survey done in June and July 2020, 30 percent of households in most Washington Counties—59 percent of which have children—experience food insecurity. The University of Washington Population Health Initiative funded the study.
• According to the Feed America Project, in 2018 there were roughly 65,000 food insecure people in Spokane County. This represented a 13 percent food insecurity rate, a rate that has now been estimated to have risen to 17.3 percent in 2020 because of the increased poverty and unemployment because of the pandemic.
• A research brief presented by WAFOOD, entitled "Economic Security and Food Access in Washington State during the COVID-19 Pandemic," reported that food insecurity ranged from 12 to 44 percent depending on education; that respondents of color were more than 1.5 times as likely to be food insecure than white respondents, and that the food insecurity was higher among single or divorced adults.
Organizations in Spokane County are aware of the increase in food insecurity and also aware that more than half of the households experiencing this trauma have children, she said
Natalie explained that the Spokane County Food Security Coalition formed out of the COVID Emergency Operations Center to assure, among other things, that CARES funding would be utilized effectively to combat food insecurity in the county.
It includes 45 diverse nonprofit organizations, health workers, direct service providers and citizens collaborating in this effort.
A glance at a few of the organizations involved in the coalition gives an idea of the different perspectives of those collaborating to solve the problem of food insecurity: The Greater Spokane County Meals on Wheels, Refugee Connections, World Relief, the Zone and the Educational Service District 101 Nutrition Services.
Natalie has been addressing food security for the last 20 years.
She received a nutrition degree from the University of California Davis, then attended the University of California Los Angeles for her work in dietetics and her studies leading to a master's in public health.
Natalie then moved to the Cheney area and has been involved in various food programs, both as a service provider and from the perspective of public health.
For her and many others concerned about the situation, the basic underlying question is why, in a nation that is one of the richest in the world, so much hunger should prevail.
Natalie asserted that it is not because there is not enough food to go around.
Speaking for the coalition, she said, "We believe that with policy and systems changes, along with compassion, everyone should have enough to eat. As an integrated, multi-sector effort, we envision increased food security and improved health outcomes for the people in our community in need of food assistance."
Natalie said that part of the systemic problem relates to aspects of the culture of poverty, which deepens as unemployment increases in the pandemic. Poverty is impacted by issues of unreliable transportation, high rates of chronic diseases, limited grocery deliveries in rural areas, culturally inappropriate food donations, and limited access to food banks and meal sites.
The Food Security Coalition seeks to bridge food access gaps for food-insecure people by 1) trying to coordinate distribution to the homeless, home-bound elderly, individuals and families with children; 2) collecting data on gaps; 3) informing the community about food distribution sites and delivery options; 4) providing language translation and identifying the cultural-appropriateness of food offered; 5) fostering equitable food distribution, and 6) reducing stigma around those who need food assistance.
In approaching solutions to some of these systemic issues, Natalie emphasizes: "We need to listen to what people need—and understand the historic trauma. We need to be willing to be introspective about what we hear and not be defensive."
Natalie has praise for many who are directly involved in trying to solve the food access crisis in Spokane County.
For further information and discussion, Natalie suggests several resources:
• Northwest Harvest's May 2020 "Addressing the Food Security Crisis in Washington" at northwestharvest.org.
• Feeding America, the national organization in which Second Harvest participates, updated "The Impact of Coronavirus on Food Insecurity" in October 2020. It is at feedingamerica.org.
• "Map the Meal Gap" to improve understanding of food insecurity and food costs is also found at the Feeding America website.
The Spokane County Food Security Coalition meets virtually from 1 to 2:30 p.m., second Thursdays. Natalie said new participants may ask for the link.
For information, call 324-1659 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, February, 2021