Low-income Sonoma County residents miss out on 47 million meals a year, according to a first-ever calculation of the county's “meal gap” by food, health and human services officials.
Released three days before Thanksgiving, the 2013 Hunger Index report indicates a nutritional shortfall affecting about 40 percent of the county's households, defined as those with an income of $50,000 or less.
The calculation of missing meals was based on food standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, subtracting the number of meals that about 200,000 members of low-income families purchase on their own and leaving a total of 91 million meals a year those families cannot afford.
With food stamps, the Redwood Empire Food Bank and other sources providing 44 million meals a year, the “meal gap” is 47 million meals, the report said.
David Rabbitt, chairman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, said the report underscores an often overlooked reality in a county “known for its rich agriculture and resources.”
Thousands of residents, many of them children, are “going to bed hungry each day,” Rabbitt said in a written statement accompanying the report.
The food gap report was produced by the Sonoma County Departments of Health Services and Human Services, the food bank, Community Action Partnership and the Redwood Community Health Coalition.
George Malachowski, a Human Services Department analyst, said it was modeled after a Hunger Index developed by the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties and Santa Clara University.
The size of Sonoma County's food gap “didn't surprise me,” said Oscar Chavez, Human Services Department assistant director.
Chavez, who joined the county agency six months ago, previously served as executive director of the anti-poverty Community Action Partnership.
“The next step is to figure out what we are going to do about it,” he said, acknowledging that food insecurity is “not a problem any one agency can solve alone.”