According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, roughly 10% of Americans lived in food-insecure households in 2021.
Food insecurity is defined as "access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life." In Fresno County, California, rates are even higher than the national average with more than 14% of households considered food insecure. However, a local nonprofit has found a solution that's making a big difference. Fresno Metro Ministry hopes to set a national example so other counties across the U.S. can implement something similar.
Every day, Fresno Metro Ministry's Vue Vang drives to schools, grocery stores and food processors to collect food that is likely at its expiration date but still safe to eat.
The food recovery program started six years ago. The people behind it, like Emogene Nelson, say they are passionate about feeding the hungry.
"I was the kid who was at the food pantries, at the mission, hungry," Nelson said. "I didn't have anything to eat and needed something. Someone to care about me. There was something I yearned for. We went days without eating. I used to eat out of the trash cans when I was a little girl, just to get just to have food so you can really survive."
Keith Berghold who leads the nonprofit says in the past six years, they've recovered more than eight million pounds of healthy food that would have otherwise been thrown away. Their success inspired a recent California law that requires grocery stores to donate the maximum amount of edible food that would otherwise be disposed.
"In fact, we were contacted by the state to actually give input on how that state law should be structured," Berghold said.
He says the model they have built can be replicated across the country to battle food insecurity. That model includes food recovery and distribution, nutrition education, community gardens, and neighborhood food hubs.
"We didn't organize to give an individual family food," Berghold said. "We organized to give agencies that were already serving the community more food and to train them how to do it in an efficient way and not to waste food."
From food pick up to food drop off a couple hours later, Fresno Metro Ministry gets to witness the impact this food is having on people in the community on a daily basis. Martin Rodriguez Jr., who works at an advocacy organization called Centro La Familia, says families are super thankful for the food recovery program.
"Usually, a lot of families, they line up from 8:30 in the morning when we first open all the way up until noon. Just waiting for us to pack it, so that we're ready to pass out to all the families that need this type of food," Rodriguez said.
Fresno Metro Ministry says they're helping people feel cared for by allowing them to go home with full stomachs and full hearts.
"The best thing that you can always do when you know there's a problem is to get in there and do your part," Nelson said.