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Food Insecurity Continues Growing In County

The latest Map the Meal Gap study is reporting findings that the extra amount of money that people facing hunger said they need to have enough food has reached its highest point in the last 20 years.

A study done through Feeding America, the Map the Meal Gap study is done annually as a historical lookback study, so all data for the most current study comes from 2022. At the individual level, food insecure people in the local area need an extra $25.68 to make ends meet. Catherine Shick, FeedMore WNY public relations manager, said this study confirms what FeedMore already has been hearing from people in the area that participate in food pantries and other food assistance programs.

“The study shows how prevalent food insecurity is in Western New York and Chautauqua County as people are struggling to make ends meet,” Schick said. “The pandemic era benefits that were in place at the height of the pandemic have expired but the cost of living has continued to increase or stay steady. People are living paycheck to paycheck and it’s still not enough, which is why agencies like FeedMore are critical to helping food insecurity.”

FeedMore WNY serves not only Chautauqua County but also Erie, Niagara and Cattaraugus Counties. Shick said they will continue to provide food assistance to those in their communities that they serve that need it. In Chautauqua County there are over 40 hunger relief organizations that they partner with, such as food pantries, soup kitchens and schools. Shick said that not only have they seen the numbers of those in need increase from 2021 to 2022, but FeedMore has also seen an increase in their data of 24% from 2022 to 2023.

“There are a lot of people in need of food assistance in the county,” Shick said. “We are working with our partners to help alleviate some of it and do what we can to help neighbors in need.”

One such program to help alleviate some of the local food insecurity is the SNAP program. Carey Skelton, Nutrition and Wellness Coordinator with the Office of the Aging, said of the 38,000 older adults in Chautauqua County, about 50% of them are eligible for SNAP benefits but are not enrolled.

“We constantly try to educate people in Chautauqua County and the state so that when they are given the eligibility criteria and told they are eligible we can direct them back to FeedMore to apply,” Skelton said. “FeedMore oversees the application process. I know that in our county older adults are under-using this service, even when they are eligible for it.”

Other programs outside of SNAP that older adults can take advantage of include SNAPed Workshops, Skelton said, that help them to utilize their benefits in a smart way, and save time, money and their health. Another program is the farmers market program. Skelton said that while SNAP is an entitlement program, meaning if you are eligible you will get it, the farmers market program is not and is first come, first serve. There are only so many coupon books the Office of the Aging has available for their farmers market program, but Skelton added that this year they have 1500 booklets, which is double of last year.

One other program is the local roots program, which Skelton said offers those that are a part of it a weekly produce box with three different varieties of produce in it. This program holds 450 spots and is currently full. The Office of the Aging also offers their dine in and dine out programs, where they can give seniors a home delivered meal for those who cannot get out anymore, or partnering with local restaurants to allow them to use their cards at these restaurants to pay for their meal.

Skelton said that the Office of the Aging is working to help older adults that are eligible for SNAP to take advantage of it.

“We want to get people aware of the benefits that are in the county,” Skelton said. “There is a perception that SNAP is a handout, or that it takes away from others, but it doesn’t. If you are eligible for it you should take advantage of it.”

While SNAP cannot fill 100% of people’s food budgets, Skelton said it can help minimize the effects of food insecurity. FeedMore WNY can help people to sign up for SNAP. Their SNAP coordinator, Brooke Barone can be contacted at bbarone@feedmorewny.org, or at 716-822-2005, ext. 3105.

People in the community can help minimize the effects of food insecurity as well. Shick said FeedMore is always accepting donations, which can be given at FeedMoreWNY.org. Their website also provides more information for those in need of food assistance.

“Chautauqua County overall has a food insecurity rate of 15%,” Shick said. “This is higher than the state’s, which is 13.4%. Rural counties are usually disproportionate to the state and Chautauqua County is no exception.”

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