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JoAnn Birkholz

Why we're giving to boost food security this holiday season

Did you see our recent announcement that Medica has made financial contributions to 13 food banks and related nonprofits in order to help people in need get nutritious food this holiday season?

We chose this issue because hunger and food insecurity are growing problems that affect the health and well-being of people of all ages and circumstances in urban, suburban and rural communities across Medica's 11-state service area.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle. This refers to a lack of financial resources for food at the household level, as opposed to hunger, which is a sense of physical discomfort felt by an individual. An estimated 1 in 8 Americans experienced food insecurity during 2020, including almost 12 million children.

Medica is concerned about food insecurity because it is one of a number of overlapping concerns called “social determinants of health.” These concerns – individually or in combination – can cause low-income families – not exclusively, but especially – to be less healthy and have a reduced quality of life. The list includes concerns related to economic stability; education; health and health care; neighborhood and built environment; and social and community context.

Here are some facts about food insecurity and hunger in the communities Medica serves, directly from the food banks and other nonprofits we supported with our holiday contributions this year:

  • Open Arms of Minnesota - delivers nutritious, medically appropriate meals to approximately 1,100 people living with serious illnesses like cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), as well as their caregivers and dependent children, each week in the Twin Cities area.
  • Food Bank for the Heartland - in Omaha, Neb., reports that it directly purchased 43.5% of the food items it distributed in 2021, with the most popular items being those it purchases directly: macaroni and cheese; peanut butter; rice; pancake mix; canned chicken; boxed potatoes; and canned fruit and green beans.
  • Kansas Food Bank - serves 215,000 people per year in Greater Kansas. It says 66 percent of its clients report choosing between paying for food and paying for medicine, and 60 percent report choosing between paying for food and paying for housing each month.
  • Food Bank of Lincoln - distributed 5.4 million pounds of fresh produce in the course of connecting its clients in central Nebraska to nearly 13.3 million meals during 2021. Volunteers contributed more than 14,000 hours to make it happen.
  • Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma - based in Tulsa, distributes food and other grocery items to 350 partner agencies, including food pantries, emergency shelters, soup kitchens, senior citizen centers and after-school programs. In 2020, the agency distributed nearly 33 million pounds of food.
  • Harvesters - a Missouri-based community food network, reports that in its 26-county service area, 1 in 8 people are at risk of hunger, including 1 in 6 kids. That's nearly 324,000 people, including nearly 100,000 children. Demand for its services increased 30 to 40 percent during the pandemic.
  • Ozarks Food Harvest - is the food bank for the Springfield, Missouri, region. It estimates that 17% of southwest Missouri residents are food insecure and don't know where their next meal is coming from. The average annual household income of families it serves is $10,000.
  • Hawkeye Area Community Action Program - serves nine counties in eastern Iowa. It has several food and nutrition programs, including a senior dining program that offers hot meals in two rural communities for those in need who may not be able to make it out of their homes.
  • Feeding South Dakota - reports that nearly 50% of the individuals its serves are children and infants. It distributed 8.9 million meals to thousands of families through more than 115 mobile food pantry sites across the state in 2021.
  • Great Plains Food Bank - is North Dakota's largest hunger-relief organization. It says 75 percent of its clients live with a chronic disease and 84 percent of them have more than one illness. Nearly half of its clients make difficult choices between paying for food and paying for gas for their car.
  • Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank - serves the Duluth, Minn., area and reports that hunger affects many in its region because housing costs require more than one third of a Northland household's income, cold weather drives higher home heating and utility costs, and jobs that pay a livable wage are scarce.
  • St. Croix Valley Food Bank - serves western Wisconsin, where 24% of children and 9,800 households are food insecure. It estimates that it will need a 30-60% increase in food by 2023 to meet surging demand.
  • St. Mary's Food Bank - serves nine counties in northern and central Arizona, including the Phoenix area. It says nearly 30% of residents in the communities it serves are living on wages that barely cover housing and other necessities, with little money to spare for food.

These nonprofit organizations do difficult, necessary, amazing work in their communities, and are deserving of our support and appreciation. In the sense that “food is medicine,” they are an essential component of our health care system.