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Feeding America, Kentucky’s Heartland (FAKH) announced the release of Map the Meal Gap 2021, which shows that household budgets were seeing further strain despite improvements in overall food insecurity rates before the pandemic.

Map the Meal Gap is the only study that provides local-level estimates of food insecurity and food costs across the United States and has been produced by Feeding America for the last 11 years now. In FAKH’s service area, the food insecurity rate is 14.7%.

This year’s study, which provides data for 2019, shows a widening gap for households struggling to get by ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic. The study finds that 31% of Kentucky residents who live in food-insecure households are likely ineligible for SNAP and other federal nutrition programs, further underscoring the importance of food banks like FAKH.

“The Map the Meal Gap study highlights what we see every day — so many families throughout our service area continually face hunger,” said Jamie Sizemore, FAKH executive director. “And as this study was completed pre-pandemic, we know that the food insecurity rates in actuality are even higher, especially among families with school-age children.”

Food insecurity is a measure defined by the USDA as lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. The 2021 release of Map the Meal Gap continued to show that all 3,142 counties and county equivalents, as well as 436 congressional districts in all 50 states, are home to people facing hunger.

Other key findings of the 2021 release of Map the Meal Gap include:

• Overall food insecurity in FAKH service area ranges from 11.3% of the population in Nelson County up to 19.4% in Fulton County.

• Number of food insecure people in FAKH service area is 14.7% of the population, or 1 in 7 people.

• Number of food insecure children in FAKH service area is 18.6%, or 1 in 5 children.

• In the state of Kentucky, 14.4% of the population is food insecure. Childhood food insecurity rate is 17.9%.

“As the only study to provide local-level food insecurity data, Map the Meal Gap is a critical tool as we work to understand the root causes of hunger,” Tom Summerfelt, vice president of research at Feeding America, said. “While the economic crisis unfolded last year in the wake of the pandemic, Map the Meal Gap provided the basis for our projections analysis that helped the Feeding America network plan an effective response and work more effectively with partners to serve our neighbors in need.”

Through a network of more than 230 partner agencies in 42 counties in Kentucky, FAKH distributes more than 19 million pounds of food each year to nearly a quarter of a million people facing hunger. Since the pandemic began in March 2020, it has distributed nearly 22 million pounds of food, the equivalent of more than 18 million meals.

Feeding America, Kentucky’s Heartland is a member of Feeding America’s hunger-relief network comprised of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs that, together, provide food assistance to more than 40 million people in the U.S. struggling with hunger.

Map the Meal Gap uses the most recent data from USDA, the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics and food price data and analysis provided by NielsenIQ, a global measurement and data analytics company. The study is supported by Conagra Brands Foundation and NielsenIQ.