Hunger is an issue about which we, as a community, feel passionately. It is why Catholic Social Services began initially, to help ensure our neighbors had enough food to feed themselves and their family. It strikes to the very core of our faith and our humanity. The St. Francis House Food Pantry at Catholic Social Services has served the people of Anchorage for 50 years. It is the fruit of the labor and donations of so many people and organizations throughout the city committed to ensuring that families have food to eat. The pantry continues to do great work every day, often serving as many as 100 families on the days it is open, and over 350 tons of food every year.
In our recent review of fiscal year 2016 data, something came to our attention. There has been a dramatic increase in the amount of food we distributed in the past year. An increase of over 150,000 pounds of food served during the year. A 24 percent increase from the previous year, and an 18 percent increase from the five-year average of food distributed between 2012 and 2016 annually.
This is a concern. Food insecurity is linked closely to poverty. National data has shown that food insecurity is inherently connected with income; it was demonstrated nationally during the recession. The number of families that experienced food insecurity rose dramatically when the national economic crisis began in 2008, according to the USDA Economic Research Service. In further exploring this topic, I found one report done by the City Policy Associates for the 2010 U.S. Conference of Mayors that listed the principal causes of food insecurity in the United States as unemployment, high housing costs, low wages and poverty, lack of access to food stamps and medical or health costs. Many these factors are impacting Alaskans at an increasing rate, and specifically impacting our clients at Catholic Social Services.
Our agency has taken on the strategic focus of preventing and ending homelessness. Clearly, there is a link between homelessness and food insecurity. St. Francis House is often the first place an individual or family in poverty comes into contact with our agency. If the issues underlying their poverty continue, we may see them again in our homeless shelters or through our Homeless Family Services program. Case managers in this program provide support in breaking the cycle of poverty and preventing or getting out of homelessness.
Food shortage often precedes homelessness, and for people in homelessness, chronic food insecurity is a way of life. Among those in homelessness, good health, a steady job, income and housing all rank above obtaining food, according to the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
Many of our friends and neighbors in Anchorage are living near the margin, and one bad situation can throw them over the edge. St. Francis House is a means of supporting families trying to make ends meet with 94 percent of clients reporting that receiving food allowed them to pay a bill that would have otherwise gone unpaid. You can make a difference in so many lives by supporting St. Francis House. September is Hunger Action Month, and we encourage you to connect with agencies, like ours, who are working to address hunger in your community. You can find out more at our website cssalaska.org.