04/01/2011 03:49 pm ET Updated Jun 01, 2011

People in Your County Are Going Hungry

Last week, Feeding America released "Map the Meal Gap," a groundbreaking study of hunger at the county level. And guess what the research showed... Hunger exists in every single county and every congressional district in the nation.

To estimate food insecurity at the county level, Map the Meal Gap research combines state food insecurity rates with factors like unemployment, median income, poverty and demographics. In addition to providing the number of food insecure people in each county, Map the Meal Gap categorizes the county's food insecure population by income band, informing us about their eligibility for various federal nutrition assistance programs. It is also the only research that provides variations in food costs across counties.

Until now, hunger research has only captured food insecurity at the state level, making it harder for local organizations to target hunger in their communities. The Map the Meal Gap research will be instrumental in helping local organizations develop strategies and identify solutions that most effectively and efficiently get help to their hungry neighbors.

Of course, the purpose of this research is to provide information, but it really goes much further than that. There is a disconnect in the public perception of hunger -- between people knowing that hunger exists in America, and understanding that hunger exists in their backyard. Hunger can affect children at your son or daughter's school, your neighbor who recently lost a job or the hourly employees at your grocery store. The fact is that hunger is much closer to home than you might think. Take a look your own county on the interactive data map to see how many of your neighbors struggle to put food on the table.

Map the Meal Gap was conducted in partnership by Dr. Craig Gundersen of the University of Illinois and Howard G. Buffett and John Lewis of The Nielsen Company. The research was released at a press conference at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. and was followed by a Thought Leadership Summit where researchers and service providers discussed their local data and how Map the Meal Gap will help them better address hunger in their communities. We were thrilled that Buffett and Lewis joined us for the press conference.

Now more than ever, it is imperative that the public understands the reach of hunger and the impact that it has on every American community. American families are struggling and proposed cuts to federal safety net programs would only make their situations even worse. Thanks to this study, we now have the information we need to educate every elected official about hunger in their communities. I encourage everyone to explore the data, share it with their elected officials, and urge them to ensure that every person in their district has enough to eat.