COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Approximately 49 million people battle food insecurity in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and about 16 million are children. Georgia ranks fourth highest for food insecurity in the nation next to Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona, says Feeding America.
Feeding the Valley in Columbus told News Leader Nine that food insecurities among children are a growing problems in the Chattahoochee Valley area.
"One out of five children is food insecure in our area," said Frank Sheppard, the executive director of Feeding the Valley. "Food insecurity means not having enough resources to maintain adequate diets. They will go hungry at some point during the week or the month."
Sheppard said the food bank saw an increase in the number of people they are now serving.
"We have seen the need for increase in our services. We are now distributing almost seven million pounds of food on an annual basis, and we have seen about 15 percent increase in the need in distribution of our coverage area," Sheppard said. "This is a problem."
Feeding the Valley is one of seven regional food banks that cover all 159 counties in the state of Georgia. Feeding the Valley also reaches out to families and children in Russell County in Alabama as well.
"We've got a large problem with hunger or food insecurity in our area," Sheppard said. "We have a 14 county coverage area in West Central Georgia and Russell County which has about 85,000 people that are living below the poverty line that are hungry every day."
Sheppard said Stewart County needs the food bank's help the most.
"Stewart County is the poorest county in the State of Georgia statistically," Sheppard said. "It's the fifth poorest in the country. So there is a real need in some of the rural areas in the South, and that's where our mobile pantry delivers food and spends large amount of time in."
Feeding the Valley relies heavily on major food donors, like Walmart, Publix, Winn-Dixie and more.
"We receive about three million pounds of food from them every year," Sheppard said. "We also rely on the generosity of volunteers who logged over 17,000 hours at Feeding the Valley in 2013. Food drives and donations help us tremendously as well."
Feeding the Valley has free meal programs for children.
"The Kids' Café program serves free meals to children during the school year," Sheppard said. "When school is out, we have the Summer Feeding program for kids under the age of 18. We serve them lunches instead of dinners. It's free to all children and we do not drive any income from that."
The Summer Feeding program is held for about 10 weeks after school gets out.
Visit Feeding the Valley's website to see how you can receive meals or help the food bank.