+BOX courtesy photo

When it comes to nutrition insecurity in San Diego, the numbers are heart-wrenching. The San Diego Hunger Coalition estimates one in three San Diegans are nutrition insecure, meaning they do not have access to three, nutritious meals per day for themselves or their families. The coalition estimates that at least 39% of the total children population in San Diego County (roughly 284,500 children) lack nutritious meals as well. 

+Box (PlusBox), a nonprofit program in Encinitas, is working to solve the problem of food insecurity. It recently announced that it will now serve a third school, Bella Mente Academy in Vista, increasing its reach to provide 575 nutrient-rich food boxes each week to students and families in need.

In 2021, +Box distributed more than 19,000 boxes and 230,000 pounds of healthy food to nearly 400 North County families. The nonprofit hopes to further expand its reach by serving 750 households by the start of the 2022-2023 school year, said Wesley Burt, executive director, and founder of Equation Collaborative, the nonprofit that manages and operates +BOX, and one of the program’s original creators.

“Social imbalances are more acute than ever, and there are many who need help to provide for themselves and their families, to have enough food, and to access other essential resources,” Burt said. “We are laser-focused on providing healthy, nutrient-rich food so we carefully curate the items we include in each box to ensure that the families we support have reliable access to healthy food and, in some cases, otherwise inaccessible fruits and vegetables.” 

Burt said the nonprofit has identified schools in at least six North County school districts that represent more than 50,000 students, of which 73% qualify for free or reduced price lunch and are typically underserved by other food assistance programs, especially in terms of reliable access to fresh produce. For Jefferson Elementary School, a current +Box beneficiary, almost 50% of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. 

“That’s pre-COVID data, so we know it’s more than that today,” Burt said. “+BOX is filling a gap left vacant by existing school-based food assistance programs in North County communities.”

The nonprofit, which also serves Jefferson Elementary School in Carlsbad and Vista unified school districts and Ocean Knoll Elementary in Encinitas Union School District, is supported by partners such as Smart Food Foundation and Feeding San Diego. Funding from donations is then used to supplement costs. 

Pamela Mudd, with the Smart Food Foundation, said her group provides about 500 pounds of six different grains and beans each month to +BOX. 

“Produce is the most expensive item for our clients’ dietary budget, but produce alone is not a complete meal,” Mudd said. “By contributing our grains and beans to +BOX produce, our joint clients can enjoy nutritious and complete meals.”

Although +BOX has been fortunate to receive support from local partners, more help is needed, Burt said.

“The fundraising never ends, especially as we attempt to achieve our program expansion goals,” he said. “We are always looking for folks willing to donate their time, talent, or treasure.”

For more information about +BOX, go to plus-box.org.