As of 2020, about one in 10 Orange County residents experienced food insecurity, and food insecurity only decreased 2.5 percent from 2017 to 2020.
The Orange County Community Food Access Assessment was completed in September 2022 and presented to the Orange County Board of County Commissioners during a meeting on Nov. 10. The report was originally requested by the BOCC in 2021 to provide a more data-informed policy to address food insecurity in Orange County.
Rachel Cominsky, a communication strategist and program manager at UNC's Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, contributed to the report. She said it was necessary because communities were tired of data collection on the issue of food insecurity without experiencing meaningful change.
The report, created by the Orange County Food Council, involved consulting with people facing food insecurity, who were identified as “community experts.” Cominsky said the report examines the causes of food insecurity from a qualitative standpoint and provides policy recommendations to local leaders.
“They know exactly what's going on and they know what they need, and we often value quantitative data over that qualitative data, and we bring in consultants from outside versus the people who are actually experiencing the issue," Cominsky said. "That was really the driving force behind it.”
One of these community experts was Chapel Hill resident and small business owner Reginald Joy. He said organizations aiming to solve food insecurity do not always talk directly to the people impacted by the issue.
“When you're not ready for the truth, some people back away from it and try to sweep it under the rug," Joy said. "So what we're doing, we're continuing to try to get the word out — ‘Hey, you know, you guys are wasting money.’”
He said current efforts to solve food insecurity do not always provide residents with the type of help they need most. He added that some people can afford to buy their own groceries, but are unable to get to a grocery store due to transportation or mobility limitations.
Mariela Hernandez, a community health worker, also said current efforts are inadequate for local residents. She said food delivery services often provide food that some community members do not use, such as canned food and condiments.