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Hunger up dramatically in southwest Wisconsin

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Kayla Bunge
February 3, 2010
— Food pantries, meal sites and shelters in southwestern Wisconsin are serving an unprecedented number of people, according to a study released Tuesday by Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin and Feeding America.

Local organizations are providing assistance to 83 percent more people than they did four years ago, according to the report.


Second Harvest of Southern Wisconsin, which serves 16 counties in southwestern Wisconsin, including Rock County, provides emergency food assistance to more than 140,500 people each year and more than 22,500 people each week, according to the report.


Feeding America and its partner food banks conduct a comprehensive survey of hunger every four years. The organizations use the data to create a picture of hunger in their communities and develop programs to meet the needs of their communities.


The 2010 study is the first to capture the connection between the recent economic downturn and hunger.


Dan Stein, president and CEO of Second Harvest of Southern Wisconsin, said the number of people facing hunger has increased across the state, but the situation is particularly dire in the southwestern part of the Wisconsin.


“Throughout the state, the numbers were between 30 and 50 percent, but here, it’s 83 percent,” he said. “There are a lot of reasons for that.”


Stein said unemployment has wreaked havoc on many communities in southwestern Wisconsin, particularly in communities such as Janesville and Beloit. More people know someone—a relative, a friend, a neighbor—who has lost a job and is struggling to make ends meet, he said.


“Hunger has been a chronic problem for a long time, but people have taken notice this time around,” he said. “It used to be a nameless, faceless problem. It happened to someone else, someplace else. … But it’s touching all of us now—and these numbers confirm and affirm what we thought.”


Stein said the economy might be showing signs of improvement, but hunger might not go away that fast.


“The lagging indicator is unemployment. It could be 12 to 18 months before it improves,” he said. “We’re going to see large numbers of new entrants (into emergency food-assistance programs) for a while.”


The study released Tuesday includes data collected from February to June 2009. Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin conducted face-to-face interviews with 455 people seeking emergency food at pantries, meal sites and other programs and 239 agencies that provide food assistance.


HUNGER IN SOUTHWESTERN WISCONSIN

Among the key findings in the report by Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin, which serves 16 counties in southwestern Wisconsin, including Rock County:


-- 65 percent of clients interviewed are white; 23 percent are black; 9 percent are Hispanic, and 3 percent identify with other racial or ethnic groups.


-- 60 percent of households interviewed have incomes below the federal poverty level.


-- 54 percent of households interviewed include at least one working adult.


-- 75 percent of clients interviewed have at least a high-school education.


-- 40 percent of clients interviewed have had to choose between paying their rent or mortgage and buying food.


-- 27 percent of households interviewed with children younger than 18 years old face hunger.


-- 38 percent of households interviewed with senior citizens face hunger.


-- 19 percent of households interviewed have no health insurance, and 54 percent of clients have unpaid medical or hospital bills.


-- 41 percent of households interviewed receive federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.



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