Tough choices faced by working poor households l 43% forced to choose between paying for food vs. paying for rent/ mortgage l 49% forced to choose between paying for food vs. paying for utilities l 32% forced to choose between paying for food vs. medicine/ medical care l 77% forced to choose between paying for food vs. transportation/ fuel costs. Association of Arizona Food Banks, Spring 2011 unexpected life changes, health challenges and economic crises. Over the last two years YFC has seen that more than 45 percent of those relying on the local food banks and pantries are working multiple jobs to make ends meet. The hungry are our seniors, our veterans, our children, and may be the neighbor living right next door. Therefore, since joining YFC as its Executive Director, I have accepted the challenge and responsibility of acting as a voice for the hungry. Yavapai Food Council, in partnership with Cornucopia Community Advocates (CCA), has participated in several countywide studies over the last five years to better understand the overall state of hunger and the effects of poverty and hunger on Yavapai County residents. YFC and CCA have uncovered shocking information that has never before been available. For instance, the 2013 study Access to School Meals in Yavapai County, revealed that 19 out of 29 charter schools in our county do not have certified commercial kitchens and therefore do not serve meals to the students. Yet, according to the Arizona Department of Education, in October of 2013, Yavapai County had an overall average of 56 percent of the students qualified for free or reduced cost meals based on their family’s economic status. This means that a sizeable number who 35 million people in the U.S. are hungry or don’t know where their next meal is coming from, and 13 million of them are children. If another country were doing this to our children, we’d be at war. — Jeff Bridges – Actor, Activist 28 IMAGINE l Autumn 2015 are eligible and need food assistance are falling through the cracks. In addition to the challenges of providing food for the hungry at school, our local food banks and pantries are finding it is more and more difficult to access and distribute the quantity of food needed to meet the rising needs of the increased adult and family populations relying on these services. Local Sedona and Cottonwood food bank clients have increased exponentially over the last couple years. Rising Hope Food Pantry of Cottonwood opened their doors in 2012 to serve 24 families a week; it now serves over 435 individuals per week. According to surveys, this story is common to every emergency food provider in our County and our State. My focus as the leader of Yavapai Food Council is to understand the goals of the organizations serving the hungry, and with their input, determine the biggest challenges they experience in regards to fulfilling these goals. The Food Council then creates specific programs to fill the gaps identified by the emergency food providers and mobilizes the resources across Yavapai County. In 2014 alone, Yavapai Food Council and those supporting our efforts teamed together through various programs to provide over 229,000 meals to the hungry in Yavapai County! I look forward to providing a series of articles for future issues of IMAGINE that will address the specific challenges experienced in our community and the programs supported by Yavapai Food Council to ensure food security for all in our communities.