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A look at food insecurity in the Dayton area and what local organizations say is the problem

By Charisse Ponder

The effects of food insecurity are impacting the Dayton region on a geographic, social and economic level. Let’s take a look at some of the local nonprofits fighting hunger and the underlying problems affecting residents today.

Understanding food insecurity starts with noting its connection to poverty and unemployment. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the median household income in Dayton is $33,116. While this amount was above the federal poverty line, about 30% of the population is still experiencing poverty.

This data exemplifies how financial stability is key to food security. Emily Callen, community food equity manager at Dayton Children’s Hospital, said food-insecure households have additional needs.

“The issue is very complex because it’s not just about food, it’s about healthy sustainable living wage jobs that help people pay their bills,” she said.

Callen also mentioned that families deal with stress and health issues since providing their next meal is a high priority.

Other problems causing residents to become food insecure are the result of food deserts, which puts families at a greater risk for health issues, said Darius Beckham, Hall Hunger Initiative’s project manager. Hall Hunger Initiative estimates that more than 50,000 residents in Montgomery County live in a food desert.

Beckham added that grocery stores shutting down in low-income neighborhoods causes a higher need for access to healthy and affordable food.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased hardships for residents as well. Lauren Tappel, development and marketing manager for the Dayton Food Bank, said there are many ways the pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity.

“At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when so many people were uncertain of the future [and] when they were sent home from their jobs, many people who may have never considered [themselves] ever needing food assistance, all of a sudden found themselves in that position,” she said. “I hope that humanizes the issue so much more.” 

Further impact of food insecurity is visible in current Montgomery County rates from Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization. According to their latest data in 2019, 14% of total residents and 20% of children in Montgomery County suffered from food insecurity.

The longstanding effects of public policies like redlining can cause food insecurity, said Amaha Sellassie, assistant professor of Sociology at Sinclair College.

“We have to look at redlining and how for all of Montgomery County, Blacks are pulled into one area and the intentional underdevelopment that comes with that,” he said. “So all those things then lend to lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables or the need to have to go to corner stores and dollar stores to get our food.”

This article is Elevate Dayton’s first look at providing some background about food insecurity in the Dayton area. In the coming weeks, we’ll look at other factors responsible for food insecurity and what communities and other organizations are doing about it.

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