New Report Finds Inflation & Rising Costs Are Driving the Need for Food Assistance in San Diego

San Diego State University has released an economic impact and recipient data report that quantifies the economic impact the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank (SDFB) has on the San Diego region. The goals of the study were to quantify the economic impact the Food Bank has on San Diego through our programs and services and to better understand the characteristics of Food Bank recipients and their usage of our hunger-relief nonprofit's services.

To accomplish both research goals, a comprehensive survey was created, tested, and deployed as part of this study. San Diego State University's L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality & Tourism Management and the Food Bank's staff created a list of questions together and tested them at two food distribution sites in Northern San Diego before deploying the survey to additional food distribution sites throughout the county.Rather than simply handing out the surveys, intercept interviews were conducted where the surveyor asked the questions and recorded the responses. This was often done in the respondent's native language. The predominant languages were English, Spanish and Tagalog. This allowed the surveyor to clarify questions and the Food Bank recipients to feel more comfortable. This also helps to receive more accurate answers to the survey questions.The final list of questions focused on length of time used, travel distance, frequency, other assistance received, reasons for using the Food Bank's services, job status, family size, make up and age and race and ethnicity.

"Our goal was to get as complete a picture as possible of the characteristics of today's Food Bank recipients," said Dr. Mark Testa of San Diego State University's L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality & Tourism Management. "The challenge was conducting the study with the highest academic rigor, but in a way that made recipients comfortable with the process. If you think about it, food insecurity is not an easy topic to approach. We felt the intercept interview process was the ideal way to go."

Some 1,018 surveys were completed in the current study. A stratified random sample was implemented across four regions of San Diego County: including Northern San Diego, Central San Diego, South Bay and East County. The goal was to ensure that the completed surveys reflected an equitable representation of food distributions throughout the county. In addition, the stratification ensured that an accurate picture of recipients was captured rather than focusing in just one or two areas.

While the study was conducted in close proximity to the COVID-19 pandemic, the data illustrates the current reality of SDFB recipients and the tremendous value SDFB provides to San Diego County.The SDFB economic impact on San Diego County was calculated at up to $134.5 million depending on how much of the offset food money or "pass through" recipients used in the economy. Some $83 million represents direct food value provided to SDFB recipients. The primary need for SDFB services is caused by rising costs (76%) with some 45% adding that they do not receive enough income. Another 25% responded that the need for food assistance arose because they were seniors on a fixed income. Other reasons for needing the services include unemployment by the primary breadwinner (13%), a disability (8%) and an inability to qualify for other assistance (7%).

"This study makes it abundantly clear that the impacts of inflation on the cost of groceries and living expenses in San Diego County has led to an increased need for hunger-relief services among families and seniors," said Casey Castillo, CEO of the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank. "Our staff, volunteers, and network of nonprofit partners see first-hand who we are serving, but we do not always know the stories behind why people are coming to distribution sites for food. With this knowledge, we can better shine a light on the current state of food insecurity in the region, destigmatize the myths surrounding hunger, and encourage others to seek help with getting the food they need to help make ends meet."

Other key findings from the report include:

  • Respondents reported that the resources from the San Diego Food Bank make up an average of 42% of their household food supply.
  • Over half (53%) of residents in North County household food is made up by the Food Bank, which is larger than the overall average of 42%.
  • North County respondents have an average income of $16,336 which is approximately $8,000 less than the average income of $24,433 and a median income of $7,000 less than the overall median of $21,000. South Bay incomes are almost $3,000 more than the average income and a median income of $2,000 more than the overall median.
  • The median household income of families receiving food assistance from the San Diego Food Bank is $21,000 and the average household income is $24,433.
  • Most respondents (57%) have been using the Food Bank for less than one year.
  • Almost three quarters (72%) of respondents attend food distribution from the SDFB monthly.

Thank you to the L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at San Diego State University for conducting this study.