An estimated 25 percent of households with a member currently serving in the military receive food assistance from the Feeding America network, the nation’s largest provider of charitable food assistance to low-income Americans, according to a recent survey conducted by the nonprofit.
The survey estimated that 620,000 households that seek food assistance from a Feeding America network agency include at least one member serving in the military.
Jennifer Gilmore, executive director of the Feeding America San Diego food bank, said she was shocked recently to see 300 people lined up at a military housing development to collect bags of produce.
“The military community is known for taking care of each other,” Gilmore told Deseret News. “The fact that they are now relying on outside organizations to meet the need is telling. Perhaps the need has gotten greater than they are able to manage.”
Gilmore said she’s observed a significant uptick in demand from military families for her food bank since the recession hit in 2008. Requests for food assistance have tripled since 2008, according to Operation Homefront, an organization that offers financial and food assistance to service members.
Factors driving the trend include low pay, the difficulty for military spouses to find jobs and the high cost of living in postings such as San Diego or Washington, D.C.
Pay can start as low as $18,000 for enlisted members, making it difficult for junior personnel to support their families even though they receive tax-free allowances for housing and food. “That’s a lot of stress,” said Mike Barron, a retired Army colonel.
A DOD spokesman told Deseret News that the department disagrees with the methodology used to calculate the estimated percentage of military households served by food assistance. The Pentagon is reviewing the survey, said Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, and is “concerned with anything that impacts the wellness and readiness of service members and families.”