On my way to work one recent morning, I found a collection bag on my doorknob for the Boy Scouts Thanksgiving food drive.

It's great to see young people making an effort to share with others during the holidays. But what happens after the holidays have passed? While the economy is recovering, many Bay Area families are still struggling.

California Food Policy Advocates just released data from UCLA's California Health Interview Survey showing that more than 500,000 low-income adults in the Bay Area struggled with food insecurity during 2011-12.

Food-insecure people are not able to consistently afford enough food. For many Bay Area families, the high cost of living makes meeting basic monthly expenses a real challenge.

In making the tough decision to pay the rent or mortgage, utility bills or buy enough food for everyone, food expenses are often compromised.

As housing costs skyrocket, tough household budgeting decisions are being made by families who aren't officially considered poor.

CHIS measures food insecurity among low-income adults, defined as those living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Experts agree that food insecurity reaches beyond this population.

The California Poverty Measure adjusted poverty levels to account for geographic differences, and found the threshold for poverty is much higher in the Bay Area. While the federal poverty level for a family of four is $23,550, the CPM threshold for a family of four renting in Alameda County is $31,701.


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Oakland's cost of living is 35 percent higher than the national average -- including grocery costs that are 22.5 percent higher -- yet the median household income is 5 percent less than the national average. It's not hard to see just how challenging it can be make ends meet.

Social-safety programs, such as CalFresh (also known as food stamps), can play a significant role in keeping low-income families out of deep poverty. Unfortunately, only 55 percent of eligible Californians receive CalFresh benefits.

This places California firmly in last place in the nation in enrollment of eligible participants. A state that prides itself on innovation can and should do much more to ensure that low-income households receive support they need.

Other federal programs play a significant role in mitigating malnourishment, particularly the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs.

More than 80 percent of Oakland Unified students are eligible for free or reduced school meals, yet even with continued improvements to OUSD's food, school meals -- particularly breakfast -- still only reach a fraction of low-income students.

State and local leaders should ensure that school food is high-quality, healthy and appealing, and served at a time and place when students are best able to benefit from these meals.

Please donate to the Boy Scouts or other food drives to share with people in need. Yet, part of the Boy Scout oath is to "help other people at all times." Californians need year-round access to nutritious, affordable food in order to lead healthy and productive lives.

Once the holiday food drives have passed, let's remember that oath and strive to protect food assistance programs that support the health of children and families year round.

Tracey Patterson is a nutrition policy advocate with the California Food Policy Advocates.