CARSON CITY — Food baskets alone are not enough to conquer the problem of hunger in Nevada, an effort that will take cooperation to help people become more financially secure so they can afford healthy food, participants at a summit were told Wednesday.
Organizers of the summit, which was held at the Governor’s Mansion and hosted by first lady Kathleen Sandoval, said its goal was to brainstorm ways to increase food available to help the needy while also focusing on their overall well-being.
“I think the biggest thing I want everyone to focus on today is the fact that we’re all doing great things, but we’re doing them individually,” Sandoval said. “My goal is to change food security throughout the state.”
While Nevada’s economy continues a slow climb out of recession, participants said the number of hungry people continues to rise.
One in four children live in households that cannot reliably provide three nutritious meals every day, while one in seven adults regularly seeks emergency food assistance, according to state estimates.
Christy McGill, executive director of Health Communities Coalition of Lyon and Storey counties, has seen the need firsthand. Lyon County was particularly hard hit in the recession, when the jobless rate was at or near 20 percent. But as the job market has improved, the demand for food assistance has risen.
“We thought we’d see a significant drop in the use of our food pantries, but we didn’t,” McGill said.
Last month the region saw a 30 percent increase.
“We’d like to go down to where we were feeding hundreds instead of thousands,” she said. “That’s what this is about.”
Cherie Jamason, president of Northern Nevada Food Bank, said attacking the problem of hunger means tackling employment, health and affordable housing. The more people have to spend on other essentials, the less they have to spend on meals.
“It’s about poverty and lack of self-sufficiency,” Jamason said. “We need to break out of our silos and begin to work on these things together.”
Just as improved prenatal nutrition reduces the number of low birth weight in newborns, “we must equally realize that an adequate supply of enough healthy food is one of the most important medicines we can provide to an impoverished elderly person with diabetes,” she said.
Jim Barbee, director of the Nevada Department of Agriculture, said his agency is working with economic development efforts to increase food production in the state.
For example, he said Nevada ranchers raise 350,000 to 400,000 head of cattle, but there is no processing facilities in-state to turn that beef into steaks, ribs or hamburger.
“You don’t see a Nevada-branded beef product,” he said.
Instead, Nevada ranchers ship their cattle out of state. “Then we buy it back,” he said. “The more production you have available in the state, the more opportunities food banks have to get those products.”