While data from COVID’s impact on our region is still trickling in, anecdotal evidence shows that many in Carroll County have been hit hard by changes connected to the pandemic: unpredictable work hours, shifting child care needs, schooling from home, dearth of housing–affordable or not, and drastic increases in household costs due to supply chain breakdowns. These pressures are straining already fragile populations–especially the old and the very young–in Carroll County, who are chronically on the brink of hunger. We believe that our focused work to provide nutritious, plentiful, and affordable meals to all who want or need them will carry on past the pandemic’s impact, stabilizing food security in our region.

According to the NH Public Health Association, using data from https://www.feedingamericaaction.org/the-impact-of-coronavirus-on-food-inseurity/,Carroll County has, as of December 2020, the second highest rate of food insecurity in the state, at 14.6% (second to Coos County with 17.3%). Many individuals who are eligible for support do not access it due to stigma and cumbersome paperwork. Additionally, many families in need aren’t eligible for services because of income cut offs, though they’re struggling to make ends meet, often because of disproportionately high housing costs in Carroll County. According to the NH Fiscal Policy Institute, rural segments of New Hampshire hadn’t yet rebounded fully from the Great Recession when hit by the economic impacts of COVID. The pandemic has exacerbated NH food insecurity, especially among lower income families with children, with a 44% increase in hunger during COVID, over all, but a 60% increase for children, specifically.

While there have been many visible opportunities for people to pick up “no strings attached” free food, provided especially by the NH Food Bank mobile food pantries, consistent anecdotal evidence from people long connected to these efforts cite that a large percentage of the population targeted doesn’t seem to have the capacity to prepare meals from scratch ingredients. This limits foods accepted or used to highly processed boxed or canned meals which–because of excessive sugar, sodium, and fat levels–can lead to or worsen serious health conditions: obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Our region needs to think outside the box to find ways to make wholesome and free or affordable meals available without stigma or constraint.

Food security is defined by the USDA as having access at all times to enough nutritious, plentiful, and diverse food to lead an active, healthy life. Food insecurity ranges from worrying about not having enough food, to eating less food than needed or wanted, running out of food, skipping meals, cutting the size of meals, using fewer ingredients or less healthful ingredients in meals.