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Results of 2019 Loaves & Fishes Client Impact Survey

Today, Loaves & Fishes released the results of our 2019 Client Impact Survey Findings. We wish we had better news. Despite an overall favorable economy and record low unemployment rates, we are NOT experiencing a drop in referrals for food in our community.   Rather our numbers remain on a steady increase.  We anticipate a 2 to 3 percent increase in service demand by year’s end, again despite the economy and low unemployment rates.  So of course, that begs the question of what is fueling this high food insecurity rate?

We believe that anyone can hit a streak of very bad luck and wind up needing to visit a Loaves & Fishes pantry, but most of our clients live in poverty or very close to it.  This drastically decreases an individual or family’s ability to cope with even the smallest added expense such as a rent increase, new medical prescription or a car repair.  The poverty level is $25,750 for a family of 4.   In Mecklenburg Co. there are 140,000 people living at or below the poverty level.  One third of these individuals are children.  It may shock you and should certainly appall you that 1 in 5 Mecklenburg Co. children are at risk of going to bed hungry at night.  Last year, of the 77,600 people Loaves & Fishes fed, almost half (46%) were children.  All of this is occurring against a backdrop of threats to SNAP benefits.

Each October, Loaves & Fishes conducts a survey of our clients in order to better understand the demographic profile, needs and realities they are facing. This year, a total of 1,159 individual heads of household adults responded to our survey.  Full survey results can be found here.

For a large majority, access is such an issue that almost 95% have worried about food running out before having money to buy more and 90.0% reported that food ran out and they lacked the funds to buy more.   When respondents run out of food, their primary way of getting food is to ask family members (44.3%) or their friends (22.6%) for food.  Even more disturbing to us however were the one in five (21.2%) respondents who indicated they just didn’t eat due to lack of food or money to buy food.  

We know that when clients are referred to us, we help with so much more than food.  The benefits that clients receive from Loaves & Fishes are evident in these survey findings.  Nearly half of respondents, or 49.0%, said that because they received groceries from Loaves & Fishes, they will use the money they saved to pay rent.  Other responses included paying for utilities, transportation needs, daycare and to support the needs of their children.  One in ten report being able to use the money saved to purchase necessary medicines for their various health issues.

Clients were asked about chronic disease diagnoses and many respondents indicated the health issues they are faced with in addition to food access issues. Specifically, 61.5% have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, one in three have diabetes, one in four have high cholesterol, one in four have asthma and one in ten have been diagnosed with heart disease.

You may be asking, where’s the good news in all of this?  What has Loaves & Fishes done to address this issue and what are our plans for the future?

We have responded to this increased need by opening new pantries and partnering with referral sources in high demand areas.  Today we now have a total of 37 Loaves & Fishes pantries housed in churches, social service organizations, college campuses and medical clinics, up from the 33 locations we had at this time last year.  Our 37th location and our first ever Loaves & Fishes pantry in the Matthews/Stallings area opened this week.

Our survey results show that transportation remains problematic for clients in crisis with nearly half of the respondents receiving a ride from a friend, family member or caseworker or needing to take public transportation to and from the pantry.  I ask you to imagine trying to carry a week’s worth of groceries for your family on a bus and then walking from the bus stop to your home with those goods.

Our new pantry locations have helped improved accessibility

Additionally, we were excited to partner a pilot study with our friends at Lyft this August in two of our highest density zip codes for food insecurity (28208 and 28216)  The pilot enrolled 75 participants lacking reliable transportation to a food source and offered them discounted rides to grocery stores, pantries or farmer’s markets.  To date over half of the enrollees have utilized the program at least once. Since the launch, Lyft has provided 639 grocery access rides during the pilot program.

When considering the serious health diagnoses our clients face we knew we couldn’t ignore the role healthy food plays in one’s health.  In fact, there is nothing more important for our health than what we eat everyday.  When asked what type of foods clients would like to have available at Loaves & Fishes pantries nearly half (47.1%) said fresh fruits and vegetables.

Increased produce distribution became a strategic priority of ours over this past year.  Thanks to our strong partnerships with Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina and the Society of St. Andrew Gleaning Network, we were able to distribute over 187,000 lbs of fresh produce in our last fiscal year.  We also upgraded and added additional cold storage to several of our pantry locations.  Dollars donated support the purchase and distribution of these healthier foods for our clients.

In addition to our food distribution through our network of pantries, we launched a new Pop Up Food Share program in partnership with the One Charlotte Health Alliance and Second Harvest Food Bank’s TEFAP foods this summer.  Since May, we have distributed fresh produce and nonperishable food boxes to over 12,000 low income individuals through a mobile operation at various medical clinics, community fairs and social service locations.

A new question to the survey this year shows that a large majority of clients (87.1%) reported that their family will be able to eat more fruits and vegetables as a result of their visit to the pantry.

For those of us who aren’t food insecure and live in a world of abundance, it is easy to tell ourselves that it’s because of our hard work and the efforts we have put into acquiring our blessings.  The problem with this ideology is that it assumes everyone has the same opportunities to “work” their way up.  People who are affluent in financial wealth are typically affluent in resources and support systems as well.  The same can’t be said for those who are struggling financially.

If Loaves & Fishes is to be the true hunger fighter we have to examine the struggles, barriers and living situations of those we serve.  We have to feed those in need now but advocate for systemic changes that promote upward mobility for all.

Today we have an army of volunteers out delivering 500 turkeys to each of our full size Loaves & Fishes.  The food loaded into vehicles today will very soon be shared around a table of a family in need right here in our community.  Those who have contributed so generously of their time, dollars and extra groceries should be proud of the difference they make for a family in need.

We know that food doesn’t solve all of the issues families and individuals in crisis face, however, I can think of no better place to start than at the dinner table.  At Loaves & Fishes we believe that food is a basic human right.  Everyone deserves to have access to healthy, nutrititous food.  And we won’t stop at Loaves & Fishes until that is a reality for every neighbor in need.

Tina Postel, Executive Director