Project MANA study reveals specter of local poverty
Though sometimes difficult to see, the severity of hunger casts a dark shadow over pockets of our seemingly affluent community. Oftentimes statistics can expose a truth that can be tough to read in the faces of our neighbors, which is why nonprofit hunger-relief organization Project MANA (Making Adequate Nutrition Accessible) recently completed a Program Evaluation and Community Needs Assessment for the Truckee area.
“I think what motivated the study was that we recognized the growing need in Truckee and we wanted to identify exactly what those needs were so we could better serve the community,” said George LeBard, executive director for Project MANA.
The study, completed during the first half of 2003 and compiled during the latter half of the year, outlines Project MANA’s current programs in the area, the successes they have had in alleviating hunger and food insecurity in our town, as well as areas that still need to be addressed or better served within our community.
Made possible through grant funding received through the Federal Community Food and Nutrition Program, Project MANA employees and volunteers are already using the results of the needs assessment to tailor their programs to best fit the specific issues found within the Truckee community.
Project MANA began in 1991 as a student project at Sierra Nevada College. Since then, its mission has been to “drastically reduce the incidence of hunger and its effects upon individuals, families, the community and the region.”
Originally, the group focused its efforts on the Incline Village and Kings Beach communities; however, recognizing a need for their services, the program expanded into Truckee in 1996.
Currently, Project MANA maintains a Truckee branch office and runs a number of different programs in the Truckee community including weekly food distribution, emergency food bags, a perishable and prepared food rescue program, hunger awareness presentations, a number of nutrition education programs and an assistance program for elderly, chronically ill and/or physically disabled individuals who require food distribution to their homes (known as the FACE program – Fresh Alternatives Create Empowerment).
According to LeBard, Project MANA’s programs are meant to provide food to those in the greatest need. “It’s not our goal to give everybody all the food they need,” LeBard said. “Our goal is to supplement what they can get so that they improve their nutrition and maybe aren’t as food insecure.”
Hunger, in all its forms, is nothing new to our community, the entire North Lake Tahoe/Truckee region, the nation nor the world – a state of affairs that Project MANA staff feel is inherently unjust.
Food Insecurity, a relatively recent term that describes an age-old condition, also has dramatic effects on the people and families it touches. Food insecurity is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.”
For the purposes of the needs assessment study, Project MANA staff chose to focus on low-income individuals and families – those people who would be more likely to need one or more of the services provided by the agency.
In conducting its study, Project MANA distributed and collected 193 written surveys, conducted six focus groups with a total of 65 people involved, met with 11 of the 13 Truckee FACE clients, and also spoke with representatives from 26 local nonprofit organizations that served a similar clientele. And in order to ensure that the growing Latino population in the area was represented, all surveys, focus groups and interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish.
The study revealed unexpectedly high rates of food insecurity and hunger among the low-income population in Truckee.
“Even though we anticipated some of those results, I still think it was surprising,” said Kim Hanson, assistant director for Project MANA.
Of the 193 people who filled out the written surveys, 65 percent had experienced some form of food insecurity, while 28 percent had experienced outright hunger – defined as “the uneasy or painful sensation caused by a lack of food. The recurrent and involuntary lack of access to food,” by the USDA.
In addition, four of 11 FACE clients were found to be food insecure and two more were actually food insecure with hunger.
“I think that because of the community we live in and because there is so much wealth, and then there is this pocket of poverty that’s happening… sometimes the wealth in the community and the resort economy does overshadow [the hunger problem] more than in other places,” Hanson said.
Identifying the root causes of hunger in our region was also vital to Project MANA’s continuing mission, and the study found the lack of job opportunities, low wages, a lack of affordable housing and the high cost of living in this area all contributed to people not having enough to eat.
These problems are not new to our region, and Project MANA staff hope to collaborate with the other community organizations trying to tackle some of these issues. With this in mind, a section of the study was dedicated to identifying potential partnership opportunities that exist within the Truckee community.
Overall, the study concluded that the people utilizing Project MANA’s current programs are satisfied with the emergency food programs provided in Truckee. Specific recommendations on how the organization can better address the needs of the town, such as potentially changing the time of the weekly food distribution to better accommodate seniors, working people, and those who ride public transportation, were also identified and are currently being put into action.
For more information about Project MANA’s Program Evaluation and Community Needs Assessment, any of their other programs, or to get a copy of the study, contact Project MANA Executive Director George LeBard at (775) 298-0008.
Hunger statistics in the Truckee region:
— According to the 2000 U.S. census, there were 798 individuals and families living below the poverty level in Truckee in 1999.
— In financial year 2002-2003, Project MANA served 1,949 households representing 7,796 individuals in Truckee.
— In Truckee, 26.2 percent of single mother households with children under 5 are living in poverty, while 11.8 percent of residents earn less that $24,999 per year.
— Of Project MANA clients who participated in the study, 28 percent also received aid through the federal WIC program (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), 20 percent participated in the school breakfast/lunch program, 11 percent received food through USDA food distribution programs and 10 percent received food stamps.
— A 2002 study by the USDA revealed that 11.1 percent of U.S. households were food insecure while 3.5 percent were food insecure with hunger.
— Of the 193 people who participated in Project MANA’s written survey, 35 percent were food secure, 37 percent were food insecure without hunger and 28 percent were food insecure with hunger. (Much of the discrepancy between the USDA and MANA studies is due to the fact that the USDA surveyed a random sample of the general U.S. population whereas MANA’s study focused on low-income households.)