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Report: Food insecurity in military families

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Published: Dec. 17, 2021 at 4:54 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Food insecurity is a struggle that individuals around the U.S. experience every day, and military personnel are no exception.

Registered Dietitian, Heather Campbell explained, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle. So, we’re not talking about hunger. We’re not talking about families that are starving.”

Campbell has worked on the issue of food insecurity in military families for the last five years, and is an advocate for military families. “One thing that we’ve found is that there’s a consistent theme of military families, especially among our junior enlisted members, who are struggling to put food on the table,” she said.

According to Campbell, a 2019 survey found that one in eight military families struggled with food insecurity.

Post-pandemic, that number has risen to one in five. “It is widespread. It is known. It is felt. It is something that is going on,” Campbell said.

She explained that this food insecurity has many causes. These include regular moving expenses, and spousal unemployment. “Especially being at Eielson or at Fort Greely, some of these more remote locations, it’s a lot more difficult to secure childcare, to get spouse employment, and some of those things that create that financial stability for families just aren’t available.”

The situation, according to Campbell, could even impact a soldier’s mission readiness. “They’re skipping meals. They’re on deployments, they’re doing missions in different places and they’re worried about their family at home.”

It can also lead to issues with resiliency and retention. “It’s hard to keep people in the military if they can’t feed their family,” Campbell said.

There are resources available on both Fort Wainwright and Eielson. According to Campbell, “We do have a small food bank, both on Fort Wainwright and Eielson, that are run through the Armed Services YMCA, and that’s a great service - but it’s somewhat hard to access. If you don’t have a car to get yourself there, it can be hard.”

The passage of the National Defense Authorization Act also created a basic needs allowance. “It will help stand in the gap for our lowest-ranking and lowest-paid military members that are below 130 percent of the poverty line,” Campbell said.

But, according to Campbell, there is still a lot of work to be done. Classes about eating healthy on a budget will soon be available on both Eielson and Fort Wainwright in the near future.

The next step, she said, is to reform qualifications for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Women, Infants and Children program.

In response to a query, Fort Wainwright commented in an email that they also have a Religious Support Office providing food boxes to families during the holiday season.

They also mentioned that Army Emergency Relief can help with grants, loans and financial planning.

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