Hunger in San Diego

Hunger is a critical issue in San Diego County and the United States. Feeding San Diego uses data collected by Feeding America to understand the levels of hunger in San Diego. Feeding San Diego is a member of the Feeding America network of food banks.

Hunger in San Diego County: Map the Meal Gap 2023

Every year, Feeding America conducts its Map the Meal Gap study to learn more about hunger at the local level. The 2024 data reflects 2022 estimates of food insecurity for the overall population and children.

Based on that data, more than 350,000 people in San Diego County are food insecure, including over 100,000 children.

Food insecurity is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture as the lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life.

Woman and her daughter holding fresh food

The drivers of food insecurity are rooted in racial inequities, resulting in communities of color facing it at higher rates. As of 2022, over 10% of the overall population in San Diego County was considered food insecure. In the Latino community, that number is 18 percent. In the Black community, it jumps to 24 percent.

Feeding San Diego distribution partner STEP serves free food to veterans and their families on June 18, 2022.

The State of U.S. Military Food Insecurity

According to the 2023 Military Economic Impact Report, more than 115,000 active-duty service men and women currently call San Diego home. Over 1.2 million San Diegans, 37% of our population, have direct ties to the military. Feeding America released a report about the state of U.S. military food insecurity. Some key findings of the report include the following:

  • In 2020, nearly a quarter (24%) of active-duty service members were food insecure.
  • Nearly half of the students at Department of Defense schools were eligible for free or reduced-price meals during the 2015-16 school year.
  • Despite a relatively high need for food assistance among service members, many cannot access the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Read the full report.

The State of Senior Hunger

In May 2022, Feeding America released The State of Senior Hunger in America in 2020. Findings reveal that 5.2 million seniors (6.8%, or 1 in 15) were food insecure in 2020.

There was no significant change from 2019. However, seniors still faced higher levels of food insecurity than before the Great Recession that started in December 2007.

In San Diego County, the rate of senior food insecurity is about 3.3%. However, an estimated 7.1% experience what’s known as marginal food insecurity. Feeding America considers someone marginally food insecure who experiences anxiety over food sufficiency or shortage of food in the house.

Feeding San Diego's Alpine Mobile Party distribution on August 3, 2022“I’m at a negative cash flow right now. Theo is my grandson and I’m his caretaker when mom is at work. I’ve been unemployed for a long time. I had really bad issues with my legs and wasn’t able to stand a lot. My daughter helps out a little bit. I was a single parent myself with five kids, divorced. I’ve been coming to this pantry off and on for years. I was taking care of my aunt who had Alzheimer's for her final few years so this really helped then. I can’t afford the fresh stuff, and the fresh stuff is more valuable to me than the canned. Thank you to everyone who makes this possible. Hopefully someday things will turn around and I can be a donor.” Deborah
Woman placing products from marketplace into cart

The Gap between SNAP Benefits and Meal Costs

A study by the Urban Institute revealed that in 2023, SNAP benefits, known locally as CalFresh, did not cover the cost of a meal in 99 percent of counties.

The institute compared the maximum SNAP benefit per meal of $2.83 with the average cost of a modestly priced meal in 2023.

In 2023, a modestly priced meal cost $3.64 in San Diego County. That’s 29 percent more than the CalFresh benefit, which means families that rely on these benefits do not receive enough to cover the cost of food.

Read more about the findings.

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