Hunger on the rise in Eastern Washington - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Hunger on the rise in Eastern Washington

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KENNEWICK, Wash.-- More and more people are struggling to put food on the table, which isn't what one might think in a community that produces billions of dollars worth of food every year.

The numbers don't add up and neither are people's pay checks in this economy. So families are turning to charity to get by.

Food produced in Eastern Washington feeds people around the world, but many here at home are going hungry at a surprising rate.

People are living in poverty in Pasco and Kennewick at higher levels than state and national averages. One in seven people in Benton and Franklin Counties are facing hunger.

But Benton County ranks third in the state for value of agricultural products. Franklin County is fourth.

Local food banks point to the higher poverty levels in rural communities as a reason for the issue.

"Services are fewer and farther between, industries are fewer and farther between to employ people and often tend to be the industries that close down the fastest in a recession much like we have seen over the past few years," said Melissa Cloninger, 2nd Harvest Food Bank.

Washington ranks 14th in the U.S. for hunger and 16th for value of agriculture products sold. Farming is big business here, but lots of locals aren't seeing the return.

"Some households have 2, 3, 4 jobs, but they are unable because they are lacking a living wage, unable to make all ends meet and are more typically the ones that we see now standing in line at food banks," Cloninger said.

Cloninger points out that food assistance is critical for the overall well-being of the community.

"Hunger deprives people of more than just food. Kids especially cannot learn on an empty stomach. Seniors and adults both fall behind and struggle," Cloninger said.

According to the USDA, Washington currently ranks first in the U.S. for production of nine crops, but the rate of hunger in our state is the highest it's ever been.