In the heart of the nation’s breadbasket, people are going hungry.
Coping with that epidemic of hunger is society’s version of an economic conundrum: As demand rises, supply falls.
That’s the dilemma also facing the Hays Community Assistance Center, where increasing demand is draining an already declining supply of necessary resources.
It’s a picture eerily similar to what emerged Wednesday when the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a report detailing an increasing level of food insecurity in Kansas, as well as the rest of the nation.
The USDA report said 15.9 percent of the 1.2 million households in Kansas faced food insecurity at least sometime during the three-year period ending last year. The three-year period was used to provide more reliable statistics, the agency said.
But during that period in Kansas, 6.4 percent of households — nearly 75,000 households in Kansas — had very low food security, which, according to USDA, means “food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food.”
Average food insecurity rates in Kansas for 2012 to 2014 jumped 1.4 percent from the three-year period ending in 2011 and 3.6 percent higher than the average of 2002 to 2004.
A similar pattern emerged in the very low food security category.
Even with relatively high margin of error rates, the prevalence of food insecurity was highest in 14 states, a group that included Kansas.
In tandem with the rising food insecurity rates, Kansas reduced what it spent on food assistance programs in fiscal year 2015 by $39.2 million in the previous fiscal year. Kansas already had cut food assistance by almost $56 million between fiscal year 2013 and FY 2014.
As well, 38,758 fewer state residents in FY 2015 received food assistance compared to two years earlier.
Likely, many of the people who no longer receive state aid are turning to the Community Assistance Center — and other food pantries — for help.
The demand is growing, said co-director Theresa Hill, but the resources are declining. The center serves as many as 5,000 people a year in various fashions.
The declining resources are especially evident in the CAC’s upcoming food drive — one of two annual activities designed to stock the shelves at the agency.
The annual Trick-or-Treat-So-Others-Can-Eat food drive begins Oct. 6, Hill said.
“Every year, that gets smaller,” she said.
Organized by the Hays High School DECA Club, the drive last year brought in only 10,000 cans of food. At its peak, Hill said, the drive would bring in 19,000 cans of food.
That food, she said, goes into the 70 to 100 boxes of food that are distributed each month. The boxes vary in size and content, depending on who is receiving them.
When the pantry begins to empty out, Hill said the CAC has to purchase food, in addition to the hamburger and eggs they already buy.
Money from garage sales is used to buy the food, as well as pay utilities at the center’s facility at 208 E. 12th, and the salaries of its co-directors.
The food boxes, Hill said, contain hamburger, eggs, cereal, spaghetti, vegetables and soup.
A single person doesn’t receive as much in a box as a family with five or more people.
It’s not enough to last a month, however.
The boxes, she said, often supplement food stamps.
“It’s like food stamps run out at the end of the month, and that’s when they come in,” Hill said of people seeking assistance.
Food stamps aren’t enough either for people to make it through the month.
“Single people, they get $20,” she said of some residents, while families with seven or eight children can get as much as $900 a month.
Even that won’t carry them through the month.
“They’ve got to learn how to make stuff,” she said of cooking meals that last.