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Cost of living, low incomes drive food insecurity in region

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The rising cost of living, unemployment, homelessness and inadequate social security and retirement income are some of the most pressing problems contributing to food insecurity in the Truckee Meadows. The findings are part of a report on the Food Bank of Northern Nevada’s Feeding Our Community Survey released this week.

FBNN worked with researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno to conduct the survey from March 2021 through March 2022 across the nonprofit’s 90,000-square-mile service area. More than a quarter of the respondents were still dealing with fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and sought food pantry support as a direct result.

“We knew the effort would be significant, especially as we were still battling [the] effects of the pandemic, but knowing what our neighbors were facing was more important than ever,” Food Bank CEO Nicole Lamboley said.

While 85% of the people who took the survey have an annual household income of less than $30,000 per year, some reported household income above $40,000 and nearly 1-in-5 said they had a post-secondary degree. 

Retirees, veterans, people with disabilities and working moms were all captured in the survey data. Some have full time jobs with enough income to be denied access to other social services, but the local cost of living makes budgeting nearly impossible, many respondents said.

“I am a single mom of three who works full time and delivers food part-time,” said one respondent. “I have three teens and don’t qualify for state assistance. The budget does just not stretch, especially with all three kids home.”

Many of those who answered the survey said they had to choose between paying for food and paying for other expenses, such as housing, transportation, utilities and medical expenses. Nearly 27% reported they were paying a mortgage and 45% were renting. 

Some families made decisions on who would or would not eat. 

About a third of people who took the survey also said FBNN’s pantry programs are their main food source, and more than half – 62% – said they have had to skip meals or cut back portions in the past year to stretch their food supply. Some do so every month.

“One of the most heartbreaking things that we hear is that people skip meals, and cut their portions to make it through tough times,” Lamboley said. “We hear this most often from parents who want to make sure that they have enough food for their children.”

Despite the food bank’s efforts, many residents must still overcome barriers to access food in their community. Those living in urban motels and shelters, for example, have limited access to appliances for storing and cooking their food. Others who live in rural areas often travel more than a half an hour to get to a store or food pantry. 

Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth is a freelance editor and communications professional with more than 20 years’ experience working in marketing, public relations and communications in northern Nevada. Kristen graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a degree in photography and minor in journalism and has a Master of Science in Management and Leadership. She also serves as director of communications for Nevada Cancer Coalition, a statewide nonprofit. Though she now lives in Atlanta, she is a Nevadan for life and uses her three-hour time advantage to get a jump on the morning’s news.

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