116,000 in area rely on food pantries, meal programs
URBANA — One out of five people in a 14-county area of East Central Illinois relies on food pantries and meal service programs to eat, according to a new report released Monday by the Eastern Illinois Foodbank and Feeding America.
The report found an upswing in the number of people in this area relying on food pantry and meal service assistance from four years ago — from about 105,000 people to 116,800.
Foodbank CEO Jim Hires said some of the troubling trends his organization will be looking at more closely in the weeks and months ahead were an increase in more children and the elderly being served by the food bank's member agencies and more households with one employed adult turning to food pantries for help.
Four years ago, Hires said, about 40 percent to 45 percent of households served by the food bank indicated there was one adult wage-earner in the family and now it's 54 percent.
What this means is low wages, Hires said.
"In general, the middle class is shrinking rapidly," he said. "I'm confident of that, because we've seen that number rise. Families can't sustain themselves."
About 11 percent of the people the food bank's member agencies serve are seniors, and, Hires predicted, "that is going to continue to increase."
Hires said he also finds it concerning that 82 percent of people served by food bank agencies said the food they do manage to buy is the cheaper, unhealthy kind because they can't afford nutritious choices.
And 80 percent of families said they have to choose between buying food or paying for medicine or medical care.
More of the report findings:
— About 17 percent of the families being served by the local area foodbank included someone who is a veteran.
— 30 percent of people relying on the foodbank have a post-high school education.
— 70 percent of the clients served by the foodbank member agencies are white; 12 percent are black and 10 percent are Latino.
The Eastern Illinois Foodbank is the primary food source for pantries, soup kitchens and shelters in Champaign, Clark, Clay, Coles, Crawford, Cumberland, Douglas, Edgar, Ford, Iroquois, Jasper, Moultrie, Piatt and Vermilion counties.
The national Hunger in America report found food banks across the U.S. are serving 46.5 million people, or out of seven people.