JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Food insecurity is a problem that's affecting hundreds of thousands of people in Northeast Florida. The need for food assistance continues to grow.
At the Feeding Northeast Florida food distribution center in Jacksonville, volunteers sort, package and ship millions of donated food to 160 agencies across eight counties. Those agencies help feed individuals and families who are food insecure.
Molly Sweet is the organization's volunteer manager.
"So many people struggle, and a lot of times, I think it's right under our noses and we don't even realize how difficult it is," Sweet said.
According to Feeding Northeast Florida, last year, 12.5 million meals were distributed to people who are struggling to keep food on the table.
"We are on track to distribute more than 15 million meals this year," Sweet said.
Despite all the donated food that will be distributed, Sweet said it's still not enough to accommodate the growing need from people who are at or below the poverty line. Those people are making tough decisions to keep electricity running over buying groceries.
According to recent statistics by Feeding Northeast Florida, more than 280,000 Northeast Floridians are defined as food insecure. To put that number into perspective, that's four times the seating capacity at TIAA Bank Field.
Of course, that seems like a lot of people until you look at a 2014 study by Feeding Florida, which revealed that 3.5 million people throughout the entire state were considered food insecure. It's unclear if the number is currently much higher.
But in a broader perspective, 2014-2016 statistics from Feeding America show that Florida didn't rank as one of the top 15 states with significantly higher food insecurities compared to the U.S. national average.
Of the eight counties serviced by Feeding Northeast Florida, Duval County has the greatest number of people who are food insecure, with more than 177,000.
Feeding Northeast Florida is always looking for volunteers. Anyone who is interested in helping can call 904-513-1333 or learn more by visiting feedingnefl.org.