Hunger and food insecurities are regular themes of the holidays. (Courtesy of Johns Hopkins University)

With the holiday season in full swing with annual parties and celebrations, there’s another tradition that’s always quite sobering: widespread hunger.

One in nine households in America struggle to put food on the table and 220,111 people live in census tracts with poverty rates of 20 percent or more while 3,555 veterans live below the poverty line, according to the nonprofit Bread for the World.

The United States and the world have made substantial progress against hunger and poverty over the past 50 years, but too many people are still being left behind, the nonprofit said.

In the District, which ranks 32nd for hunger in the nation according to a new hunger and poverty snapshot provided by Bread for the World, food access counts as a problem for many.

A 2017 published report noted that those working on food access equity in D.C. use words such as “crime,” “absurdity” and “injustice” to describe the disparity between Wards 7 and 8, areas east of the Anacostia River and the rest of the city.

The USDA characterizes these low-income communities starved for places to purchase fresh produce as “food deserts.” And between 2010 and 2016, the situation reportedly only worsened.

Eight years ago, the local organization D.C. Hunger Solutions released a “Grocery Gap” report showing Ward 7 had four full-service grocery stores for 73,856 residents and Ward 8 had three full-service grocery stores for 69,047 residents.

Data from 2016 reveal Ward 7 is down to two for all 70,064 residents and Ward 8 is down to one for all 78,686 residents.

Roughly one in seven households in the District is food insecure, the group said.

Worse yet, 26.6 percent of D.C. households with children can’t afford enough food – a disproportionate number of these families live east of the river.

“With the Hunger Heat Map, we’re able to see not only where the need is, but also what our impact is in the community,” Michael Hollister, who designed a “Hunger Heat Map” for the Capital Area Food Bank, told WAMU last year. “And we’re able to assess after our impact, what is left to do.”

In the year or so that the heat map has been around, the food bank has used it to determine where to locate services, and to design new programs. Cecelia Vergaretti, the food bank’s Northern Virginia director, said that’s how her staff came up with the Kids Food Bus.

“We looked at the Hunger Heat Map and we said, ‘Wow, look at all the spots that have high poverty and high food insecurity,’” she said. “And we challenged them and we said tell us how you would feed these kids down in Prince William County. It’s a whole lot different than Fairfax County.”

The Capital Area Food Bank is the largest nonprofit hunger and nutrition education resource in the Washington metropolitan area. Since its founding in 1980, the food bank has annually distributed 23 million pounds of food to more than 383,000 people through its invaluable network of over 700 partner agencies.

In addition to food distribution, the food bank offers many programs that equip those at risk of hunger with skills to more efficiently meet their current and long-term food and nutrition needs, such as nutrition education and food stamp outreach.

“There are many reasons why people find themselves at risk of hunger. Poverty and hunger are directly related – those living in poverty are often at risk of or suffering from hunger,” Food Bank officials said in a statement posted on its website. “The recent downturn in the economy has taken its toll on the working poor, and more recently those who once considered themselves middle-class are in need of food assistance.

“In the Washington, D.C., area, housing costs are soaring and low-income housing is difficult to find,” the officials said. “Utility and transportation costs also continue to increase, leaving little room in household budgets for food.”

Earlier this month, Wells Fargo launched its second annual Holiday Food Bank program to help feed people and families in need this holiday season. The banking giant kicked off the program with a $4 million donation to Feeding America, the largest domestic hunger-relief organization in the U.S.

The company also will match up to an additional $1 million in consumer monetary donations to Feeding America, potentially bringing Wells Fargo’s total contribution up to $5 million. The organization estimates that, with every $1 contribution to Feeding America providing 10 meals, Wells Fargo will help secure more than 40 million meals for people in need.

“Food insecurity is a very real issue in too many communities, and it feels even more urgent during the holidays,” said Jon Campbell, president of the Wells Fargo Foundation. “Wells Fargo believes we’re in a position to help move people and families out of poverty and build financial stability. And it starts with ensuring that all people have access to basic human needs — stable housing, food, education and steady employment.”

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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