A new report indicates Illinois is doing better than the rest of the country when it comes to food insecurity.
According to the annual study from Feeding America, just under 11 percent of the state’s population struggle to afford nutritious meals on a regular basis. That compares to the national average of 12.5 percent. Greg Trotter, with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, said the problem is worse in certain areas.
"The food insecurity rate is highest in some of the downstate counties,” Trotter said. “Alexander County has the highest rate at 22.2 percent. Then there's Jackson County at 17.6 percent and Pulaski at 17.1 percent."
Meanwhile, in Chicago and surrounding Cook County, nearly 800,000 people a year receive some form of food assistance.
"The need we see on a daily basis has been pretty consistent,” Trotter said. “It's come down a little since the recession, but we're still serving more than 800,000 people a year through our network of agencies. That means food pantries, shelters, soup kitchens. The need is great still here and likely through the state."
Trotter said the people who get help from his organization aren’t always the ones some might expect.
"I've talked with college students, graduate students, homeowners,” Trotter said. “When we had the federal government shutdown, I was talking to people who were furloughed or working without pay, turning to the food pantry for the first time."
The annual “Mind the Meal Gap” survey found a total of nearly 1.4 million Illinois residents were considered food insecure, with the problem more prevalent in the far southern part of the state and the east-central region.
"Food insecurity is in every community and it affects all kinds of people of every race and cultural background,” Trotter said. “It's across communities. What the government shutdown illuminated for us is how many people are one paycheck away from needing that type of assistance."
North Dakota has the lowest rate in the county at about 7 percent, while Mississippi has the highest at nearly 20 percent.
Details on Illinois’ results and the full report at Feeding America’s website.