For Thanksgiving: The faces and story behind America’s hunger crisis
Eric, a real estate agent, watched his company go under during the economic downturn. Now he struggles to support his two sons and wife and pay the mortgage bills. After Jessie was diagnosed with dementia and a debilitating muscular disease, she was unable to work and disability checks were not enough. After Santana’s husband lost his job, it has been hard for her to provide even one meal each day for her six kids.
These are just a few of the many faces of hunger. This Thanksgiving, show your thankfulness for what you have by learning the facts about hunger and poverty and what you can do to make change.
Almost 49 million Americans, including more than 16 million children, are at risk of hunger. While Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief charity, has made a huge dent in the hunger crisis – providing more than 3 billion pounds of grocery products to 37 million Americans annually – far too many Americans will go to bed hungry tonight. One in six Americans lives at or below the poverty level, and one in seven Americans uses SNAP benefits (food stamps). Many of these are working families.
“It is truly eye-opening for people when they find out how many Americans are facing hunger. These people could be our neighbors, they could be friends or family, and for one reason or another they are struggling with hunger. In this time of tremendous need, with unemployment stuck above 9 percent nationally, millions of workers have lost their jobs, their homes and have seen their families’ economic security slip away,” said Shannon Traeger, spokeswoman for Feeding America.
Food banks and food pantries provide an extra resource for Americans who struggle to put food on the table.
While food banks have historically been more of an emergency safety net, a new study by Feeding America called "Food Banks: Hunger’s New Staple," shows that food from pantries is no longer being used to meet temporary, acute food needs. Instead, for the majority of people seeking food assistance, food pantries are now a part of households’ long-term strategies to supplement monthly shortfalls in food.
“More people are turning to Feeding America food banks for assistance,” Traeger said. “It’s becoming normal. Food assistance has shifted from emergency to chronic.”
An umbrella organization for more than 200 food banks across all 50 states, Feeding America secures and distributes donated food and grocery products through a network of approximately 61,000 food assistance agencies, such as food pantries, soup kitchens, emergency shelters and afterschool programs.
These 49 million Americans, who often have to wonder where their next meal is coming from, form a broad spectrum of Americans, from people visiting a food pantry for the first time to families who rely on a food assistance program week by week.
Despite much public misconception, the majority of individuals who rely on food pantries are employed. Only 10 percent of the client households served by the Feeding America food bank network are homeless.
“Just because a person has a job doesn’t mean he or she has enough money to put a meal on the table,” Traeger said. “People who are unemployed or working low-income jobs or several low-income jobs often face difficult decisions like paying for their rent, paying for the electricity bills or paying for their medicine. How do you make those kinds of decisions? How do you decide whether to put food on the table for your family or to keep the lights on in your home?”
In the wake of high unemployment and poverty caused by the economic downturn, food banks are seeing a great need for their services. With demand increasing and funds decreasing, Feeding America food banks are struggling to provide enough food to feed all of those in need.
“Our client base is growing. Due to the dismal economy and recession, now more than ever, we are finding that more people are turning to food banks and pantries. There’s a shortage of donated food, and there’s a shortage of funds,” Traeger said.
This Thanksgiving, consider giving back to the hungry through Feeding America’s holiday Give a Meal campaign. For a mere buck, you can provide eight meals to someone in need. (feedingamerica.org/giveameal)
For those looking to donate time, you may visit Feeding America’s food bank locator to find a food bank in your local community to gift with your energy and devotion.
“We have 202 food banks across the United States and all of them need help,” Traeger declared. “Volunteers are truly the backbone of our network. Our food banks would love to have volunteers come on board to help tackle hunger by serving food or packing boxes.”
Advocacy is another way to eradicate poverty and hunger. Spread the word about hunger and poverty statistics and you could inspire others.
“One in six Americans is at risk of hunger and not a lot of people know that. Many people see hunger as a problem abroad and not something people are struggling with here in the U.S.,” Traeger maintained. “Being a hunger-relief advocate and sharing the issue with your family and friends via Facebook or Twitter are great ways to get the word out and help those people who are struggling.”
Besides volunteers and funds, food banks particularly request these items: high-protein items (canned/dried beans, chili, tuna, peanut butter), fresh fruits and vegetables, macaroni and cheese, cereal, pasta, rice, canned fruits and vegetables, soups, canned meals and pasta sauce.
Nonfood items requested include diapers, toothbrushes, laundry detergent, shampoo and toothpaste. Any donation is, of course, welcome.
“No one deserves to feel hungry. Everyone deserves to have three full, nutritious meals a day. Everybody deserves to live a successful and happy life, and, in order to thrive, they have to be fed and not have to deal with the problem of hunger,” Traeger said.