Study: Southeast Mo. has highest rate of food insecurity in state, made worse by pandemic

Study: Southeast Mo. has highest rate of food insecurity in state, made worse by pandemic
Uptown Jackson Revitalization Organization has been recognized as a 2020 Main Street America affiliate. (Source: Jeff Knight, WAVE 3 News)

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KFVS) - An annual study on hunger showed southeast Missouri has some of the highest rates of food insecurity in the state.

According to the Map the Meal Gap, the effect of the high rates of hunger was made worse by the coronavirus pandemic and resulting unemployment.

Overall, according to the study, the rate of food insecurity in southeast Missouri is 16.1 percent and 20.2 percent for children. Food insecurity means the household lacks the resources to provide enough food for a healthy diet.

“We’ve known for a long time that we serve some of the poorest counties in the state,” said food bank Chief Executive Office Joey Keys. “In fact, seven of the top 10 counties in Missouri for high rates of hunger are in Southeast Missouri Food Bank’s service area. When COVID-19 hit and people began losing jobs, a tough situation became even worse. So, when our rates of hunger are adjusted to take into account the increases in unemployment and economic hardship, they increase by 5 to 10 percent.”

Pemiscot County in the Bootheel has the highest rate of hunger in the state with 21.6 percent, or one in five people, living in a home that does not have access to enough healthy food.

The child hunger rate in Pemiscot County is 27.5 percent, or almost one in three children who may not know where their next meal will come from.

When adjusted for COVID-19, those figures increase to 26.4 percent for overall hunger and 35.9 percent for child hunger.

Other counties posting high rates of hunger include:

  • Ripley County, No. 2 in the state, 20.6 percent for overall hunger, 27.8 percent for childhood hunger. COVID-adjusted rates are 25.2 percent and 35.8 percent respectively.
  • Dunklin County, No. 4, 19.9 percent for overall hunger, 25.5 percent for childhood hunger. COVID adjusted: 25 percent and 34.4 percent respectively when adjusted for COVID.
  • Wayne County, No. 5, 19.9 percent for overall hunger, 25 percent for childhood hunger. COVID adjusted: 25 percent and 34.1 percent respectively.
  • New Madrid County, No. 6, 20.18.8 percent for overall hunger, 24.6 percent for childhood hunger. COVID adjusted: 23.6 percent and 33.1 percent respectively.
  • Mississippi County, No. 8, 18.5 percent for overall hunger, 22.5 percent for childhood hunger. COVID adjusted: 24.1 percent and 32.5 percent respectively.
  • Butler County, No. 10, 18.2 percent for overall hunger, 19.4 percent for childhood hunger. COVID adjusted: 23.4 percent and 29 percent respectively.

“The study shows many people in southeast Missouri, especially children, are dealing with hunger on a regular basis,” Keys said. “This information coupled with another recent report on senior hunger, helps us see where the need is greatest so we can develop strategies to address those needs. That often includes distributing more food in those counties, including holding mobile distributions, doing special distributions through schools for the families of students or expanding our weekend backpack program for kids.”

Southeast Missouri Food Bank supplies food to 140 food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless and domestic violence shelters and senior centers in its 16-county region. It also provides monthly boxes of food to 5,000 eligible senior citizens through the Commodity Supplemental Feeding Program, operates the Emergency Feeding Assistance Program for eligible families and mobile food pantries on evenings and weekends for working parents.

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