Tackling Food Insecurity in the Military Community

As a newlywed military spouse fourteen years ago, I was fairly overwhelmed with how much there was to learn about military culture and common military family experiences. Lost in a sea of acronyms and roads named after famous military commanders that I had never heard of, I tried to learn military lingo with the help of Google and new friends. There were also hard realities that I had much to learn about: the stress of deployment and war, the strain of combat experiences on servicemembers, families, and relationships, and shockingly: food insecurity.

Food insecurity is a challenge that I first encountered during a new spouse training on military culture and military family life experiences. At the conclusion of a military resources lesson, a fellow participant piped up, “But you didn’t talk about the food pantries. Someone in this room might want to know where they can get food if they run out.” The military spouse shared information about the local food pantries that they were personally aware of and reached out to when their own family struggled.

It was uncomfortable to hear this. As a young college student who did not yet understand the challenges that many families face in terms of financial challenges, I was taken aback. How can that be true? I remember asking myself. How can it be that families in our own military need to use a food pantry for assistance?

Shortly thereafter, I became a Registered Nurse who cared for military families and witnessed firsthand that food insecurity in the military community is a complex issue compounded by multiple factors, like spouse unemployment, economic inflation, and the everchanging landscape of family expenses needed for daily life. Military families often fall in an income bracket in which they do not qualify for some government nutrition assistance programs, like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP (often referred to as food stamps.) Addressing food insecurity promptly is key: while helping families connect with resources to maintain adequate access to nutrition, the development of the even more serious concern—hunger—can be prevented.

The brave spouse who spoke up to discuss food pantries several years ago was clued into something that remains true for today’s military: food insecurity is a very real challenge that military families face, and a concern that requires a compassionate response from those whose life’s work is to support and care for service members and their families.

It is vital that all professionals who care for military families are aware of the local and military resources available to support military families in times of need. In response to the government’s request to empower Military & Family Life Counseling (MFLC) Program Counselors to address this concern at military installations all over the world, our training team developed a comprehensive food insecurities training. This training informs MFLC Counselors on the challenges of food insecurity, the prevalence of this dilemma, and how MFLC Counselors can respond when food insecurity is identified. This training utilized the survey data from the most recent 2020 Blue Star Families survey to describe food insecurity as a concern that impacts nearly 14% of today’s military families. The recorded webinar available to Magellan Federal MFLC Counselors discusses approved practices to casually inquire about food insecurity when potential warning signs are identified. MFLC Counselors are encouraged to share referral information with MFLC program participants about local and military resources to address any nutritional concerns. MFLC Counselors are experts in the resources available to the military community and play a powerful role in unlocking military families’ access to resources simply by sharing referrals to food pantries, military installation programming, and even relevant government-assistance programs, like Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

Our Magellan Federal MFLC team continues to provide prompt and comprehensive responses to the food insecurity concerns that face the military community.  Embracing a compassionate, holistic approach to supporting military families is key to reducing the incidence of food insecurity, and as a result, promoting service member and family readiness to respond to mission requirements.

Military families should connect with an MFLC Counselor on their local military installation for information about available local food insecurity resources in their communities.

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