The September 8 release of the 2020 U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS) Report during Hunger Action Month tells two compelling stories. First: The investments made in safety net programs worked. They helped millions of Americans avoid hunger last year during the economic and health crises spawned by the COVID-19 pandemic. A reassuring 89.5 percent of U.S. households were food secure; the remaining 10.5 percent (13.8 million households) were food insecure, meaning that households could not consistently access adequate food due to a lack of money or other resources. 

As levels of food insecurity rose during the pandemic, food banks, private donors and government initiatives banded together to meet extraordinary need. One key example, the USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box program delivered 173,699,775 boxes of fresh produce, dairy and cooked meats to Americans in need coast to coast. That program ran from May 2020 to May 2021 and was essential in providing consistent and balanced nutrition to families and individuals through distribution partners like food banks and food pantries. Partnerships like these represent the ongoing collaboration required to keep a nation, a state or a county fed.

The second storyline is the continuing concern.

Of the American households experiencing food insecurity in 2020, households with children struggled, seeing an increase from 13.6 percent in 2019 to 14.8 percent in 2020. Black and Latinx individuals were especially affected by food insecurity last year, with Black communities logging a rate of 21.7 percent and Latinx households reporting 17.2 percent; both far surpassing the rate of White households (7.1 percent). Rural areas also suffered a higher rate of food insecurity with 11.6 percent of households regularly missing meals.

Collaboration and Partnerships Are Effective, So Let’s Get to Work

The numbers in that second story reflect the need to continue leveling the playing field when it comes to equal access to nutritious food across neighborhoods and communities in Orange County. Can we elevate our support to local families whose economic realities were already compromised pre-Covid; as well as those whose post-pandemic economic recovery may take years to resolve? By continuing to diligently plan our food supply, advocate for policy change and innovate ways to work around supply chain disruptions and food price hikes, yes! Can we ensure that residents in all 34 Orange County cities receive nutritious food? We are doing this now. But to end food insecurity and hunger outright, partnerships are essential, and creative partnerships give us even more of an edge.

While we have solid networks throughout southern California that allow us to respond to great need, consider what we could accomplish by taking bold, unprecedented steps together. We need cross-sectional collaboration between industries and nonprofits; local and state governments; individual donors and entire communities to combat the multiple factors that feed food insecurity: Poverty, lack of adequate education, health care and job training and affordable childcare. The recent end of federal unemployment benefits is sending thousands of Orange County families back into the routine of skipping trips to the grocery store or a farmer’s market so they can pay rent. This is why the presence of hunger relief organizations is essential. In our community, the Orange County Hunger Alliance has begun to blur the old lines between food banks; sharing distribution routes, funding and resources to work with volunteers and donors to remain prepared for future spikes in need.

USDA survey data show that public and private partnerships work. Last year, as the need rose, so did the support—not solely from government entities, but from many who chose to give their time or dollars. During this important month dedicated to taking action against hunger in Orange County and across state lines, a collective effort to provide consistent access to balanced, nutritional food will write a healthier, more unified American story.

Dave Coffaro, Board Chair, Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County Dave is a strategic leadership advisor, executive coach and author. As principal of the Strategic Advisory Consulting Group, Dave works with businesses and nonprofits to define, design and deliver their vision through operating models that create results. Dave’s community involvement includes serving as Board Chair with Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County and as an executive coach with Executive Coaches of Orange County.

Mike Learakos, Executive Director, Abound Food Care Mike relied on his 35+ years of broad food industry experience to develop the nationally recognized ‘Waste Not OC’ food recovery model.  This public/private/non-profit effort, started in 2012 and now known as Abound Food Care, develops solutions and leverages partnerships to fill the gaps that lead to food waste and food insecurity.

Gregory C. Scott, President & CEO of Community Action Partnership of Orange County Gregory currently serves as President & CEO of Community Action Partnership of Orange County, a leading national network championing the war on poverty, racial and economic equity, strengthening families, youth empowerment and education, and community development. He is a gifted and sought-after speaker on a local and national level and serves on the Board of Directors for the OC Forum, Southern California Counseling Center, Anaheim Workforce Development Board, the Nonprofit Insurance Alliance of California (NIAC), and the marketing committee for the African American Board Leadership Institute.

The OC Hunger Alliance is Second Harvest Food Bank Orange County, Community Action Partnership Orange County’s OC Food Bank and Abound Food Care—formerly Waste Not OC. The three nonprofits have partnered to pool resources, funding, strategy, advocacy and leadership to eradicate hunger and food insecurity, eliminate food waste and address poverty county wide. To donate, volunteer or partner with the Alliance, visit www.ochungeralliance.org.

Opinions expressed in community opinion pieces belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

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