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The Steuben Courier Advocate
  • Food Bank: 1 in 4 Southern Tier residents sought help

  • The need for food assistance in the Southern Tier is significantly higher than the national average, with about one in four residents seeking help from a food pantry or similar organization at some point during the year, according to data released Thursday by the Food Bank of the Southern Tier.
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  • The need for food assistance in the Southern Tier is significantly higher than the national average, with about one in four residents seeking help from a food pantry or similar organization at some point during the year, according to data released Thursday by the Food Bank of the Southern Tier.
    The national average is one in seven people seeking food assistance.
    Even one out of four may be an understatement of the need, according to Food Bank spokesman Jonathan Fuller.
    He said that number, based on a study done every four years by Feeding America, a nationwide network of 200 food banks, doesn’t include services provided through some churches or Meals on Wheels programs that aren’t affiliated with the Food Bank, and likely under-represents children who don’t show up at food pantries themselves to seek help.
    The new statistics were presented to elected officials Thursday morning by Food Bank President and CEO Natasha Thompson.
    “It’s hard to imagine so many of our neighbors being hungry, however we know that hunger is a problem that often hides in plain sight,” she said in a press release.
    The study also indicates that about 30 percent of families seeking help include veterans or active service members – that’s twice the national average.
    Fuller said the Food Bank is still working to understand that result.
    “We didn’t expect to find that,” he said.
    Fuller did note that the presence of the VA Medical Center in Bath means there’s a larger than normal number of veterans in the area, which might help to explain the numbers.
    One thing the new statistics can’t do is give a picture of how hunger and the need for food assistance has changed in the region over the last four years.
    This year’s findings, based on data collected in 2013, used a different formula from the 2010 study.
    The new statistics include more types of assistance than before, so comparisons are unhelpful.
    “It’s apples to oranges,” Fuller said.
    He said the new results more accurately reflect the actual need in the region.
    The surveys in the area were also done before the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which could affect the need for assistance, and before cuts in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, also known as food stamps.
    Thursday’s “legislative breakfast,” kicking off Hunger Action Month, was attended by Assemblymen Phil Palmesano, R-Corning, and Chris Friend, R-Big Flats, and state Sen. Tom O’Mara, R-Big Flats. A representative from U.S. Rep. Tom Reed’s office also attended.
    Page 2 of 2 - Fuller said the breakfast was an opportunity for the organization to speak to elected officials about the need they’re trying to address.
    As a charitable organization, they’re not allowed to “lobby” legislators in a traditional sense.
    “We’re very limited in what we’re able to do and allowed to do,” he said.
    While the Food Bank can’t “hold their feet to the fire,” Fuller said he hopes the striking nature of the new statistics will give the lawmakers a new appreciation of the problem of hunger in the region.
    The local agencies served by the Food Bank of the Southern Tier in its six-county area fulfilled 1.2 million requests for food last year, totaling 9.7 million pounds.

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