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  • Writer's pictureericjcarrig

Filling the food safety net, when the government's version isn't enough.

Updated: Jun 11, 2023

Guest: Kara Irani, Director of Marketing and Communications for MANNA Food Bank (Mountain Area Nutritional Needs Alliance).


  • MANNA sources perishable and shelf-ready food from wholesalers, farmers, and retailers and packages and distributes it.

  • It serves people in 16 counties in Western North Carolina and is a member of Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger relief organization.

  • Runs pantry markets and pop-up distributions

  • It has 13 trucks

  • Distributes food to churches, non-profits, childcare centers, adult day care centers, homeless shelters.

  • These partners tell MANNA about the people using the service and what is driving them to need food.

  • As part of a Medicaid pilot program in North Carolina, MANNA provides nutritionally curated food boxes based on health conditions, which is the first of its kind in the United States.

People MANNA serves

  • Working families whose expenses — housing, transportation, bills, food — outpace income

  • Senior citizens, choosing between medication and food

  • Families and single moms with kids

  • 125,000 people every month

  • Double the number of people they were serving before the pandemic

  • There are likely more food-insecure families who don’t know about MANNA, can’t get to a distribution point, or are ashamed to go.

  • This is not just a homeless population. People have houses, cars, and normal lives, except they can’t afford food. They skip meals so their kids can eat.

What is driving Food Insecurity?

  • Housing costs — people are paying more than 50 percent of their wages on housing

  • Crisis: medical bills, car repairs or loss of a car, unemployment, health issue, broken major appliance.

  • Insufficient wages — The main food insecurity driver has shifted from medical debt to simply not having enough money to pay expenses

  • Rural areas are more impacted because food deliveries are not as frequent

  • It is expensive to open and run a grocery store, especially in more food deserts.

  • War in Ukraine impacts wheat, a critical ingredient

  • Industry is better at managing supply and demand, so there is less food available to donate: MANNA’s donated inventory dropped from 85 percent to 65 percent, so it — a non-profit with limited funds — has to buy food.

  • Food benefits will drop after the government raised them to help during the pandemic — people will lose $90-$280/month in food benefits

  • Eligibility and Benefits — Minimum thresholds to earn benefits are low and outdated

    • Household income must be at or below 130 percent of the poverty line. For a family of three, that means they can earn between $1,920 a month (poverty level) to $2,495 a month (130 percent of the poverty level), or about $29,940 a year.

    • A family of four that is eligible for SNAP benefits receives $718 a month for food— or $179.50 per person.

    • You judge whether that is reasonable.

Why aren’t we feeding our fellow Americans?

  • We take food for granter: People who earn enough can pay for housing, transportation, their bills and food, and likely have the family and friends available to fill in gaps.

  • The government-run, public safety net for everyone else isn’t enough.

    • The food lines and homelessness prove it.

    • The U.S. government’s safety net only helps Americans in the worst situations — when it is too late — instead of helping them before they get there.

    • MANNA and any organization that helps provide Americans with free food are part of a safety net system to fill in for our government that also includes non-profit organizations that provide housing, transportation, and health care.

  • Stigma and misinformation

    • Some believe that people want to live off free food even though it is hard to qualify in the first place and the benefits are lean if one does get them.

    • People don’t talk about their own food insecurity because of their pride and the perceived stigma that comes with it

    • We tend to think of people who lack sufficient food as homeless, living in cities in government housing, or in run-down shacks in rural areas. Most are working.

Solutions for a healthier and more productive society that features less begging, sickness and crime

  • Make some positive assumptions

    • People want to be self-sufficient, empowered, and responsible, but simply don’t earn enough to cover their expenses, especially if they have had a medical problem, car break-down, or some other significant financial crisis.

    • People don’t want to live off of government benefits because they provide so little and are hard to get.

    • Businesses benefit from a more productive work force, lower turnover and recruiting and training costs, greater loyalty all of which lead to greater margins.

  • People who are struggling with food insecurity, should tell their stories, so business and government leaders will understand the scope of the food problem.

  • Do the math for your own empathy meter

    • The 2020 pre-tax media household income in the United States was about $67,000 or about $60,000 after federal taxes. That’s $5,000 a month before state and local taxes.

    • Every location is different, but after mortgage or rent, auto expenses, and bills, there isn’t much left for food.

    • Any family not earning over $60,000 — which is most people — might be one bad event away from food insecurity.

  • Advocate for lower eligibility for government food assistance, higher wages or both

    • Update eligibility levels: $40,000 a year for a family of three is not enough to keep it healthy and productive.

    • Expand Medicaid benefits to more people, especially health and food programs for families with children.

  • Why not just feed people?

    • The government proved it can feed all Americans when it expanded the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) during the pandemic.

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