Data Will Help End Hunger Part 2 – Capital Area Food Bank Hunger Heat Map

Image: Capital Area Food Bank, June 2015

Last week I talked about the need to use a compelling story and data to create empathy to help solve food insecurity in America. Today I want to look at a great example of a local organization using data visualization to pinpoint its greatest needs – and it’s right in my back yard.

The nation’s capital and its surrounding suburbs (known locally as the “DMV”) is one of the richest areas in America. Unfortunately it is also home to some of the worst food insecurity in the nation. As of September 2015, about 1 in 8 households in the District of Columbia didn’t have enough to eat and over 345,000 residents of the DMV area live in ‘suburban poverty’. The Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB) is the largest provider of meals in the area. They partner with almost 500 non-profit groups to solve hunger and its companion problems: chronic undernutrition, heart disease and obesity. To tackle the challenge of resource allocation, they created a data visualization to drive results.

As reported by the Washington Post and others, the CAFB released its proprietary Hunger Heat Map for the public in 2015. The Hunger Heat Map is an interactive digital map of their entire service area broken down into census tracts. It uses color-coding that corresponds to food insecurity rates and areas where food is being distributed and where there is a distribution gap. CAFB had access to their data for years but never had visualized it and opened it to the public. The map points out that some parts of the DMV region have 27-47% food insecurity.

The map uses open government data from the U.S. Census and the U.S. Department of Agriculture as well as county-level data from Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap and local food pantries’ inventories. Michael Hollister’s work on the Hunger Heat Map is a model that other food assistance organizations should emulate. The CAFB used the Hunger Heat Map to determine where to launch its feeding bus, which provides free lunches to low-income school children during the summer months when school is not in session and they normally wouldn’t otherwise receive lunch. It also helps erase the misled perception that hunger isn’t present in affluent areas. Other parts of the U.S. are using food insecurity maps including the Greater Las Vegas Valley. They are leaders in telling the story of hunger in our neighborhoods.

Data + caring people = positive change.

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