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65% of county residents qualify for assistance
According to Elva Beltran, the problem of hunger has always existed in Porterville to an extent, and the economic down-turn five years ago has made it worse while also underscoring the issue as it has grown across the country.
According to Feeding America, a non-profit organization devoted to feeding America through networking food banks, providing information, and studying the extent of the problem at the national, state and local level, California has a “food insecurity” rate of 15.9% and a poverty rate of 13.7%. These numbers jump when speaking of children: 26.8% of California children are food insecure, and 19.1% are impoverished.
The food insecurity rate for Tulare County, however, is 20.1% of the county’s population, and 65% of these people (86,160) qualify for government assistance like CalFresh, free school meals, or CSFP (a program for seniors). Only 6% of this population, Feeding America’s website said, can really benefit from charitable donations. Most must have access to some sort of government aid to help provide for their basic needs.
Beltran, who has worked to provide assistance to people in need for 15 years, can describe the problem in a much better way.
“I have families that are in need of food, and I try to send them to one of the private churches or the St. Anne’s pantry,” Beltran said. “I see the need for food on a daily basis, whether it’s an elderly couple or a single mother with kids and no dad in the home.”
In Porterville alone, government aid is doing a great deal to help put food in the mouths of those who need it the most, the young.
According to records compiled by CalWORKS on Free and Reduced Price Meal eligability, for 2011, 13,649 children from Porterville Unified School District and Burton Elementary, from Kindergarten through senior year of high school, qualified for either reduced price or free meals under the program. Of the schools, Pioneer Middle has the highest percentage of students who qualify for the program, with 96.63% of the 505 students enrolled counted as eligible for the program. Overall, 80% of Porterville Unified¹s enrolled students qualify, while 74% of all of Burton Elementary students qualify.
Lupe Diaz, who organizes Project Homeless Connect, says that even when these children grow to adulthood, the problem continues and has gotten worse because of the economy.
She volunteers with a ministry that runs each Saturday, manned by volunteers from seven churches in Porterville, and those efforts have provided insight into the problem.
“I have noticed with our outreach that we are seeing younger people, the ones that are transitioning out of the foster system, and those are the ones we need to reach out to,” Diaz said. “They are out on the streets and have no place to go. After they turn 18, they have no family to go to and have no job.”
According to reports by the USDA, which gives the average cost of feeding individuals or a household by week or month, the average cost of feeding a child, regardless of whether one’s budget is “thrifty”, “liberal” or somewhere in between, has gone up a few dollars over the last few years. To feed a child, on a thrifty-budget, for a month ranged from $86.30 at one year of age to $140.80, for nine to 11-year-olds in August of 2010. In August of 2012, the newest Official USDA Food Plans Report reported that the range went up to 91.90 for the one-year-old group to 151.00 for the 9-11 year-old group.