Issue of food insecurity presses on in Sonoma County

Despite Sonoma State University’s location in Sonoma County where food is in high production, hunger is still an issue for many citizens. The Sonoma State STAR published an article last month, highlighting the effort of the California State University’s research on campus-hunger, but the issue is much more widespread.

Seventy thousand local households account for 36 percent of the county and these households missed 34 million meals last year according to the 2015 Sonoma County Hunger Index. The Hunger Index explained many families are finding it hard to pay for their meals while living on low-income and government aid. The rising cost of food is only creating more issues for low-income households struggling to find meals.

“I think there are definitely some resources that are underutilized. At the same time, there are also non traditional things,” George Malachowski said. “There’s an organization in Petaluma called ‘Petaluma Bounty’ that works with folks, and other business organizations that do their own gardens. And so I think part of it is knowing your resources.”
Malachowski works for the Sonoma County Human Services Department and played a vital role in analyzing the data for the index.

“The larger problem is even if you were to get full participation in some these [government aid] programs it still wouldn’t close the missing meal gap completely. How do you make families more sustaining for themselves?” Malachowski said.

For many families who have tried to find aid, the rising cost of food is still too much to overcome. Even at the local level, growing food is not as cheap as many expect.

“If you look at the economic recovery in Sonoma County, in particular the last few years, the people at the higher end of the income have improved much more rapidly than at the lower end,” Malachowski said.

The rising cost of food compounded on the low incomes of some of the affected families, leaves many without food.

The vicious cycle of rising prices and stagnant wages forces more and more families to miss meals.

Oscar Chavez, Sonoma County’s assistant director of human services, spoke to the Press Democrat in Feb. 2015 about the issue.

“Despite the improvement, the meal gap is still unacceptably high. We know that we still have a lot of struggling families who are not able to make ends meet and continue to be in low-wage jobs,” Chavez said.

The irony behind this issue, is that agriculture is a driving economic force for Sonoma County and that doesn’t seem to change.

“Very little of the food that’s produced in Sonoma County is actually consumed in Sonoma County. And that’s one thing that we really need to work better on,” Malachowski said.
Although simply raising awareness can help, there are other measures that can be taken to help those in need of food.

“One thing is advocating at the community level, and with local governments, to use unused land to create gardens. I also think it’s individuals growing food in their backyard and donating it to pantries or food banks, or go through their churches,” Malachowski said. “The other part of it is thinking about the actual cost of your food.”

Although the issue is improving, it’s far worse than it should ever be in such an agriculturally predominant area. To alleviate some of the stress that these families may feel, government programs are available to provide assistance. Of course, other options exist as well. The Redwood Empire Food Bank is run on donations and is open to anyone in need.