SALT LAKE CITY -- Weber County has the highest percentage of food insecure residents along the Wasatch Front, according to a new study released by the Utah Food Bank and Feeding America, the nation's largest domestic hunger-relief organization.
The Map the Meal Gap study documents nearly 400,000 Utahns who are hungry and pinpoints the number of such residents in counties throughout Utah and the nation.
Marcie Valdez, director of the Joyce Hansen Hall Food Bank in Ogden, said food insecurity is when an individual is not certain where their next meal is coming from: "There are no groceries in the cupboard and no money in their wallet."
In Weber County, 16.1 percent of the population qualifies as food insecure.
In Davis County, 13.2 percent of the population is food insecure. Food insecurity is 15.4 percent in Cache, 15.2 percent in Box Elder and 12.3 percent in Morgan.
For the first time, the study uses county-level data on food costs from The Nielsen Company to break down food budget shortfalls, according to the Utah Food Bank.
"For over two years, Utah Food Bank's statewide network of food pantries has reported an ever- increasing rise in the number of individuals and families requesting food assistance," said Jim Pugh, CEO of Utah Food Bank.
"This new study, which reports that 15.1 percent of Utahns face food insecurity, only further underscores the tremendous need in each county of Utah and the importance for citizens to help those less fortunate in their local communities."
Valdez said Weber County became eligible for $100,000 it recently won through Walmart's "Fighting Hunger Together" Facebook Campaign because it is one of the top 100 counties in percentage of hungry residents across the U.S.
And 10 Utah counties have food insecurity percentages that are the same or higher than Weber County, according to the study.
Those counties are Duchesne, Carbon, Grand, Washington, Iron, Garfield, Beaver, Sanpete, Juab and San Juan.
San Juan County has the highest percentage of hungry residents in Utah with 23.8 percent.
Also part of the study is the percentage of each county's food insecure population that qualifies for food stamps and other programs.
"The information we got from the Utah Food Bank is that 50 percent of people who are going to the food pantries are not receiving food stamps, but they are eligible," Valdez said.
"There is enough food in Utah and nationwide that we should not have families going hungry. A lot of times, it's just a matter of getting the resources to people that need the help."
People struggling with hunger estimate they would need about $56 more each month to address food budget shortages, according to Census Bureau's Current Population Survey data analyzed as part of Map the Meal Gap.
This shortfall represents an estimated 66.8 million meal gap in Utah on an annual basis, say authors of the study.
"So many of our families here at the food bank, they are working; their paycheck just doesn't go far enough," Valdez said. "It's not just about making sure people don't go hungry. If we can provide people with $200 worth of food, that's $200 they can use to go to other needs."
The findings of Map the Meal Gap are based on statistics collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Census Bureau, and food price data from The Nielsen Company. The study was supported by The Howard G. Buffett Foundation and Nielsen.