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Food insecurity remains above pre-pandemic levels in Louisville

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Breya Jones
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One hundred-thousand Louisville residents experienced food insecurity in 2021, according to a new report from the Greater Louisville Project.

The report compares Louisville to 16 peer cities in the Midwest and South that are comparable in size.

“What we’ve seen in Louisville is that we’ve gone from doing relatively well compared to our peers to slightly better than average,” said Harrison Kirby, data scientist at Greater Louisville Project. “This change represents the largest growth in food deserts among all of our 17 peer cities.”

From 2014 to 2019, wages went up and food insecurity decreased. But at the start of the pandemic, food insecurity spiked — and has yet to recede.

Food insecurity occurs when a person does not have reliable access to nutritious foods. Living in a “food desert” is often a factor.

Today, one in five Louisville residents lives in a food desert, an area lacking grocery stores and fresh produce.

“The area where we’ve seen the greatest increase in food deserts in our community is centered around downtown,” Kirby said, citing the 2016 and 2017 closings of the First Link grocery store and downtown Kroger location.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the problem.

As people lost their jobs and had less access to steady food, data shows a spike in food insecurity. While the increase affected people across demographics, one group in particular has continued to outpace others.

“In Louisville and across its peer cities, children exercise higher rates of food insecurity than adults do,” Kirby said. “In 2021, 18.5 percent of children in Louisville were food insecure.”

Kirby said even when food insecurity was decreasing among other age groups pre-pandemic, the number remained stagnant for children before spiking when the pandemic began.

Despite some things going back to the way they were before the pandemic, food insecurity levels have not dropped to where they once were.

Dare to Care CEO Vincent James said the food bank is experiencing even higher demand than they were at the start of COVID-19.

“We had a perfect storm where we had a decrease in federal benefits at the same time we had an increase in inflation, in gas prices and in food,” James said. “For your average family, that increase has caused a lot of challenges [so] that we’re seeing a 20 to 30 percent [increase] over the past two months at our food pantries.”

Dare to Care has implemented programs like drive-thru food pantries to help meet the need. They also partnered with the Greater Louisville Project to present the food insecurity data as part of Hunger Action Month.

Hunger Action Month is a national campaign to bring more awareness to food insecurity and food deserts.

“A huge population of people is still dealing with a lot of economic consequences of the pandemic, and most all of the resources have dried up,” said Clare Wallace, executive director of South Louisville Community Ministries.

Wallace works with the ministry’s food pantry and has seen firsthand the ways food insecurity has affected people. Even before the pandemic, she said, the issue was going largely unaddressed.

“It wasn’t working before either. And if we can all agree that there is enough and that basic needs are basic rights, then we can ask that question of why then are people not able to get basic needs met,” Wallace said.

Through further programming this month, Dare to Care and its community partners aim to shed more light on food insecurity.

“The one thing we can all agree on is that no one should go hungry, no one should be without food, and so in that agreement we can make sure we have solutions to addressing these very complex problems,” James said.

A full list of upcoming programs for Hunger Action Month can be found on the Dare to Care website.

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