Report: 8,000 Sonoma Valley residents face food insecurity
A newly released report shows that approximately 8,000 Sonoma Valley residents face food insecurity, and an estimated one-third of them are unsure about local assistance options available to them.
This was among the main discoveries in a detailed, 77-page report, “Sonoma Valley Food Security Assessment,” which was released on Jan. 31 by the Community Planning Collaborative consulting firm. Food security generally means a person knows where their next meals will come from, while those who are food insecure do not.
The collaborative’s Cathy Capriola and Laurie Decker, both residents of Sonoma Valley, began work on the report in April 2022, providing an in-depth analysis of food-related trends, needs and resources.
“The nonprofits providing food assistance are doing an incredible job, but getting out this amount of food into the community on a daily basis is a massive undertaking and takes all of their focus,” Decker said. “Catalyst provided an opportunity to look at food security in the Valley through a wider and deeper lens, to be able to hone in on common issues and ways to help make services more effective, and potentially reach more people who need help.”
Capriola and Decker partnered with local food assistance providers to survey Sonoma Valley households with a questionnaire. They also held five meetings with the task force, did more than 24 interviews with food providers and made seven site visits.
“Food assistance providers were very open to sharing information and insights, and the clients themselves provided really helpful feedback through the survey,” Decker said. “Visiting the various food distributions in action was probably where we learned the most.”
The report was done in partnership with a task force comprised of all major food providers in the Valley, and kicked off the second major initiative of the Sonoma Valley Catalyst Fund, which hired the firm to produce the study.
Dub Hay, co-chair of the Sonoma Valley Catalyst Fund, said that the interactions among food distributors in the task force were also especially significant.
“One of the great outcomes of this eight months of work was bringing the food providers together, where we heard conversations among them,” he said. “The providers were brainstorming and seeing how they could help each other and collaborate in feeding those who need a hand.”
He noted one immediate impact of the report: After finding that residents of Temelec retirement community in Sonoma were not receiving food assistance, Redwood Empire Food Bank announced on Thursday, Feb. 2, that it is now delivering food to that neighborhood.
Based on household income, Capriola and Decker found that almost 20% (some 8,000) Sonoma Valley residents live below 200% of the federal poverty level, given that the cost of living in the Valley is estimated to be 50% above the national level and government safety nets do not always adjust for the cost of living. he 200% threshold is commonly used to indicate what portion of people in a community may struggle to feed themselves and their families.
“Given the economic headwinds of surging food prices, gasoline, rent and energy costs, this unfortunately has affected many in the Valley,” said Dub Hay, co-chair of the Sonoma Valley Catalyst Fund. “Younger families with kids and seniors are the most affected.”
The questionnaire was completed by 314 households (200 in English and 114 in Spanish), comprised of 859 individuals, which are likely to be facing food insecurity. The survey found that with the food assistance they receive, 52% of households are getting enough food to stay healthy, 30% usually get enough, 8%, usually don’t get enough, 5% don’t get enough and 5% don’t know.
When asked if they fell they have the information needed about food assistance that is available to them, 68% of respondents (69% surveyed in English survey and 67% in Spanish) said they feel they have the necessary information about food assistance that is available to them, 19% (26% surveyed in English and 22% in Spanish) are not sure and 10% (12% surveyed in English and 7% in Spanish) either are not receiving the necessary information or are not sure.
The report identified 15 major food providers for Sonoma Valley residents: CalFresh; Women, Infants and Children (WIC); Redwood Empire Food Bank (REFB); Sonoma Valley Unified School District School Meals; Council on Aging; Farm to Pantry; Food for Thought; Ceres Community Project; Friends in Sonoma Helping (FISH); pantries at St. Leo’s Catholic Church, St. Francis Solano Church and Sonoma Seven-day Adventist Church; Sonoma Valley Community Health Center; Food for All/Comida Para Todos; Sonoma Home Meals; Sonoma Overnight Support (SOS) and Vintage House.
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