by Lauren Major, Data Quality Specialist
Each day in America, 40 million people don’t know where their next meal will come from (Feeding America). Families and individuals across the country are struggling to find and buy healthy food, and the struggle is often worsened for people with specific health needs, like diabetes, or other factors like income, race, or even location. In fact, 23 million Americans live in food deserts, more than a mile away from a supermarket (United States Department of Agriculture).
In Austin’s Travis County, these factors mean that 15% of the population is food insecure, including 21% of all children in the county, according to Austin’s Office of Sustainability.
This past week, the Aunt Bertha Data team took a morning off from researching social services to do our part to help people in our community by volunteering at a food pantry run by the Austin City Health Department. Nearly 100 families came to get food– a combination of fresh produce and bread. The Health Department also offered on-site screening services for participants, including blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol.
At the food pantry, we saw families with young children, seniors, single adults, and generally a very diverse population. Any of the participants could have been my neighbors, my family, or anybody I could meet in the street. There are thousands of food pantries across the country, serving unique populations in need of some extra help. Just on Aunt Bertha, we list more than 9,000 food pantries spanning across the country, and we are constantly adding more. This means that every day in America, tens of thousands of people are visiting food pantries so they can feed themselves and their families, and I am so happy that we are able to connect people in need with food in their community.
During the event, after the bread and dessert items were long gone, We got a chance to talk about health and hunger with the staff from Austin Public Health’s Blackland Neighborhood center. They visit the Turner Roberts Recreation Center every month to provide needed groceries to the community. The staff was able to give us some insight into what the Austin City Public Health department is seeing in our communities.
One of the health department’s main focuses is related to special health needs, like diabetes. In food deserts especially, healthy food can be hard to find, and even more difficult if someone needs a specialized diet. They tackle health and hunger holistically, providing food, specialized healthcare, and even financial assistance to improve the city’s health outcomes. This comprehensive approach is needed to ensure the cycle of hunger ends. Someone with diabetes, for instance, might be able to access food or afford some food, but they might not have the knowledge or funds available to access the types of food they need in order to stay healthy in the long term.
The Austin City Health Department provides social services such as food assistance, bus passes, counseling, health screenings, pregnancy tests, flu shots, and much more in six neighborhood centers across the city. The city also has satellite locations in more isolated communities, especially low-income areas and food deserts, where they provide food to community members in need.
If you’re interested in volunteering to provide Fresh Food For Families at Turner Roberts Recreation Center, register here on the United Way Austin website. For more information about the work the Blackland Neighborhood Center is doing, visit them here.