Tompkins County Food Insecurity – Capstone Project

Assessing Food Insecurity in Tompkins County – Sustainable Farming and Food Systems Capstone – Sarah 

After researching food insecurity in Tompkins County for three months, I know so much more than I did when I started out, but I feel like I’ve still only breached the tip of the iceberg. There is so much complexity that goes into the way that people receive help in this area. Even the ways that the words “poverty” and “food insecurity” are defined are complicated.

Loaves and FishesSo here’s a summary of what I found out:

The groups of people who have the highest instance of poverty in this area are families with children under five, specifically female led households, and people of color. In the city of Ithaca, 100% of female led households with children under five live at or below the poverty line according to the Tompkins Community Health Analysis.

The biggest sources of help to impoverished individuals in Tompkins County are the Food Bank of the Southern Tier, and the programs mandated by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The former supports soup kitchens and food pantries across 6 counties and distributes over one million pound of food each year. The latter provides funding for things like school and summer lunch programs, and for WIC (the special supplemental program for Women, Infants, and Children).

Food Bank of the Southern TierWhile I was doing research, I visited several places that provide for individuals in the area. Although I planned to visit more, I ended up going to four places. I went to The Food Bank of the Southern Tier, where I sorted three tons of potatoes (the rotten ones from the good ones) with a charming group of retirees. I went to the community dinner at The Salvation Army, a place I had never even heard of, but which turns out to provide delicious hot meals every weekend night- things got exciting when the health inspector arrived. I went to Loaves and Fishes, the largest and most well-known soup kitchen in the area, where I washed and put away dishes, and enjoyed a really impressively delicious meal (they had vegetarian and vegan options, too). Lastly, I volunteered at a farm-to-table dinner that benefited healthy food for all, where I directed traffic, washed dishes again, and ended up going home with about a week’s worth of food made by chefs at Just a Taste. Every experience was different, but I would recommend every single one to anyone who is looking to volunteer in the area (and recommend volunteering in the area to anyone who isn’t).

Overall, nothing really went the way I thought it would, but it was a great feeling to look down at the questions I had set out to answer in the beginning of the semester, and feel like I had answered every one. Although I still don’t know even close to everything on the subject, I know so much more, and more importantly, I know how to help in the future.

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