ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — More families are facing hunger as the pandemic continues.
“Pre-COVID statistics will tell us that 15% of individuals in Pinellas County were suffering food insecurity, some reports estimate that as high as 24% based on families missing a meal at some point in a 12 month period because they didn’t have the financial resources to access food,” said Jennifer Yeagley, CEO of St. Petersburg Free Clinic.
The St. Petersburg City Council plans to declare food as a human right during their meeting on Thursday.
They also plan to announce a goal of creating access to nutrition food within one mile of every resident in St. Pete.
“In areas where there is prevalent food insecurity, there tend to be convenience stores where folks can pop in and spend an exorbitant amount of money on something that is unhealthy because it is all that folks have access to,” said Yeagley.
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The St. Petersburg Free Clinic sees this need firsthand. They operate one of Pinellas County’s largest food banks and food pantry.
Yeagley says this is a huge issue that’s been getting worse over the pandemic.
“We went from serving approximately 6,500 individuals per month to serving on average 21,000 individuals per month, coming to us just specifically for food,” said Yeagley.
More than 50% of their clients right now are reaching out for help for the first time, because they’ve never experienced food insecurity before.
“A troubling trend that we have seen is the increase in number of families with children that are needing to access food pantries,” said Yeagley.
In 2019, for the entire year, the food bank distributed 11 million pounds of food throughout Pinellas County.
So far this year, they’ve already distributed 10.5 million pounds.
“This is just not sustainable as a community, we have to find systemic solutions that reduce community's needs to rely on food banks and food pantries, frankly,” said Yeagley.
In order to create access to nutritious food within one mile of every resident in the city, new documents show the city wants to utilize zoning and create a Food Access Improvement Plan.
“The extraordinary need for this basic thing, this basic means of survival, you know the food that we need to nourish ourselves and keep pour families safe and health and fed and it is so inaccessible for so many of our neighbors,” said Yeagley.
Over the years, ABC Action News has reported about this issue and the solutions some officials have been working on, like community gardens, mobile food markets, and the creation of the South St. Pete Market Place.
To help make nutritious food more accessible, St. Petersburg Free Clinic encourages people to support local organizations who run food banks and food pantries.
“We also want to be sure that we are supporting policies like the extension of programs like SNAP so that people can also access programs like that,” said Yeagley.
The meeting starts at 9 a.m.