The Opportunity Index Provides a Better Understanding of Community Challenges

If we are going to have a food secure community, we need to be able to answer these three questions: Who needs help? How much help do they need? And how long will people need that assistance? Only with these answers can we create an effective safety net.

One of the tools available to help answer, “How much assistance do people need?” is the Opportunity Index. It is a web-based measurement of economic, educational, health and civic factors by zip code that gives insight into challenges people face based on where they live. Founded in 2011, the index is updated annually and measures five areas of impact: opportunity, economy, education, community, and health and includes measures of home ownership, access to healthy food and health care, community safety, volunteerism, voter registration and more.

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“It’s a tool that we use to level set,” says Michelle Maisie, director of the nonprofit Opportunity Nation. “It allows people to put their zip codes in and it will spit out information based on state and county levels that allows you to see what opportunity looks like where you live.”

The index helps us make better assumptions about the levels of service being provided in communities and how that service should change if we want to see people’s lives improve. Over time, we can also see how our work has enabled communities to be more successful.

Overall, Michigan has a state rank of 30 with a score of 52.2 out of 100. The highest-ranking state, Vermont, has a score of 63.3.

“We want to use this to challenge states and challenge counties and communities to say we can always do better,” Maisie says. “If your community is ranking low, then what are the solutions you could focus on to try to elevate these factors and open up more opportunity in your area?”

Food security empowers community improvements. When we take hunger off the table, no matter where people start on the index, it makes it easier for people to get to a better place. I have been amazed at how much people can do when they have more time and energy to fix the issues they’re facing in the best way they can.

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At Gleaners we believe that we need to do more and better in order to create the most optimal solutions for hunger and food insecurity. While we don’t want to oversimplify the challenges we face, we do want people to know we’re getting more information and we’re using that information to drive effective solutions. We believe food insecurity is a problem we can solve, and we are committed to solving it together.

Interested in the Opportunity Index where you live? Click the link here to search for your zip code.