1 in 6 Pierce County children don’t have enough to eat

May 1, 2023, 7:36 AM | Updated: 8:11 am

students in lunchroom eat...

Food insecurity continues to worsen in Pierce County. 1 in 6 students are facing hunger. (Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

One in 6 Pierce County children and 1 in 10 adults don’t have enough to eat, and the situation appears to be getting worse.

Michelle Douglas, the CEO of the Lakewood-based Emergency Food Network said she and her partner organizations have never seen it this bad, including during the pandemic. The organization is helping twice as many people as it was in 2019.

“Many of us thought we’d seen the height of food insecurity during the COVID pandemic,” Douglas said. “And what I can tell you is we’ve actually never seen higher numbers than we’re experiencing at this point in time.”

A state-wide survey conducted by the University of Washington and Washington State University found that 55% of households surveyed used at least one type of food assistance within the past month, and 31% of households with children reported “very low food security.”

Food Lifeline, based in Seattle, is the local affiliate of Feeding America. It estimates one in 10 people in Washington suffer from food insecurity and malnutrition. 

Pierce County food bank leaders sounded the alarm at a County Council meeting last week, the Tacoma News-Tribune reports.

At Thursday’s meeting, the County Council unanimously approved a resolution proclaiming May as “Hunger Awareness Month.”

Douglas told the Council that people of color, seniors, children, and families with children are most likely to be faced with insecurity nationwide.

Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, and other people of color who live in Pierce County were 1.5 times more likely to be food insecure than white residents.

National SNAP benefit reduction squeezing local food banks

And families with children are especially vulnerable, 52% of Pierce County students qualify for free and reduced lunch, Douglas said. The fastest-growing group of people visiting the food pantry is parents who have one to three jobs in their household.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, food prices rose 10.4% in Tacoma, Seattle, and Bellevue. “It is staggering, that level of hardship,” Douglas explained. “What we know now is we see many of those same working families every single week.”

With summer approaching, there is concern across the region about where and if children will have enough nutrition when they cannot get free or reduced meals at school.

“During COVID, kids got free food in school, and that has ended, at least for our school district,” Councilmember Robyn Denson said.

“Our school districts have seen a drop off in the families that are applying for free and reduced lunch. So getting those families back online is important, not only so their kids can eat but also so that the school district gets the funding it needs to feed the kids.”

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1 in 6 Pierce County children don’t have enough to eat