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Increasing number of military families in San Diego experiencing food insecurity

The San Diego Food Bank distributed five million pounds of food to military families in 2020 - a 54% increase from 2019

From plump Thanksgiving turkeys to jars of peanut butter, the San Diego Food Bank puts groceries on the shelves of those who need it most. One of their many distribution programs provides food to retired and active-duty servicemembers. In 2020 the bank distributed over five million pounds of food to military families- that’s a 54% increase from last year.  

"We serve roughly around 40,000 military families, dependents, veterans, retirees throughout all of our county," said Vanessa Ruiz, the Vice President of Operations at the San Diego Food Bank. "That is an astonishing number."

According to a study from Feeding America, 125,000 active-duty service members have trouble feeding their families. In addition, many of those going hungry receive a housing allowance from the military, usually making them ineligible for the Supplemental Assistance Program or SNAP.

"I think the biggest thing to adjust to was the higher cost of living," said Ashley Johnson who moved onto Camp Pendleton with her husband in 2019. "We're both are from a smaller town in Louisiana. So the lifestyle there for cost of living is a lot lower than what you have here." 

After she moved, Johnson said she struggled to find work in California as her certifications weren’t valid in the state. Her husband was making around $40,000 a year in the Marine Corps. The pay scale for a petty officer in the Navy is anywhere between $25,000 to $33,000 a year. That’s the same salary for a seaman based in Louisiana or San Diego.

"We put him into the military. We moved him far away from their support systems. We have astronomical spousal unemployment. And we ask them to manage their money," said Kathi Bradshaw the vice-president of Support the Enlisted Project or STEP. 

STEP is an organization that provides emergency financial assistance to active-duty service members. Bradshaw said it comes down to individual budgeting and the U.S. military giving proper financial resources to their own soldiers.

"I think that includes helping with affordable child care. I think that includes helping with making certificates that allow people to work, And I think it also includes teaching people how to set and achieve financial goals," she said. "My feeling is that there is there's more than one way to address any issue that we can bring forward." 

Along with active-duty military, veterans in San Diego also need support. CBS 8 is a proud partner of the Warrior Foundation Freedom Station Give-a-Thon this Friday, Nov. 19. Click here for more information about the Give-a-Thon and click here to donate.

WATCH RELATED: Armstrong & Getty kick off the Warrior Foundation Freedom Station Give-a-Thon 


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