The face of hunger is changing—so is fighting it

by Terry B on December 2, 2009

As the effects of a sagging economy continue to spread, an ever-growing number of Americans face “food insecurity,” a newly coined euphemism for not knowing where your next meal is coming from. Hunger.

According to Daily Kos, the PSA above featuring President Obama is sadly already out of date. It says that one out of eight Americans is at risk of hunger. The number is now one out of six. According to a new report by Feeding America, more than 49 million of us are at risk for hunger.

A recent article in the New York Times delivers more sobering numbers. Food stamps, once scorned as a failed welfare scheme, now help feed one in eight Americans and one in four children. More than 36 million people “use inconspicuous plastic cards for staples like milk, bread and cheese, swiping them at counters in blighted cities and in suburbs pocked with foreclosure signs.” Every day, about 20,000 people are added to the program. The usage of food stamps has grown so much that they’re losing their stigma. At least in part, this change is thanks to government outreach programs and other efforts to destigmatize them and make sure those in need are getting adequate food.

Meanwhile, food banks across the country—designed to serve the most dispossessed among us—are finding themselves stretched to the limit as they try to keep up with growing need from working class and middle class families. To help them meet the increased demands, they’re trying some new approaches. Recently, NPR reported on one new tactic some are using, online virtual food drives. Donors can go to food banks’ websites and select from a list of suggested items. They can even see pictures of items needed. And because food banks buy in bulk, donations go further.

American Public Media’s Marketplace had encouraging news last month about one federal agency’s moves to improve the health of those it serves. WIC [Women, Infants, and Children] provides billions of dollars in food vouchers for low-income pregnant women, infants and children. For the first time, the vouchers are good for fresh produce, brown rice, and other more healthy foods in WIC-certified stores. The “healthy makeover” was done in the hopes that children and expectant mothers will change their diets. A ripple effect of this move is that the stores, typically smaller corner stores in lower-income neighborhoods, are beginning to stock more fresh produce and healthy foods. And that benefits everyone—too often these neighborhoods are so-called “food deserts” where healthy food choices are virtually non-existent. In Chicago alone, an estimated 600,000 residents live in one of three food deserts.

How to help—or get help, if you need it

The need is great. If you can help, with food, money or time, every donation is greatly appreciated. According to a food bank in Seattle, one hour of a volunteer’s time is the equivalent of $17. Contact food banks in your community or local government agencies to see how you can help. You can also visit the Feeding America website. There you’ll find ways to get involved and links to organizations in your community.

If you or someone you know needs help, Feeding America’s website also has a whole host of resources for those in need, in English and other languages. Everything from links to local food stamp programs to online eligibility pre-screening, school lunch program information, disaster assistance and even nutritious recipes.

We all need help at one time or another, every one of us. Give it if you can. Ask for it if you need it.

UPDATE: Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina is now following Blue Kitchen on Twitter! If you live in North Carolina, please reach out to them and help however you can.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) December 2, 2009 at 11:42 am

Beautiful post, and a sad reminder of how much remains to be done in this area. I would encourage everyone to visit their local food pantry, too. It’s a real wake-up call to realize that, for many families, those canned goods and pasta you toss into a donation bin in the supermarket might be the only food they have that week.

Terry B December 2, 2009 at 3:47 pm

Thanks, Lydia. We’ve volunteered at the Greater Chicago Food Depository in the past, helping pack boxes. It’s great to see what an organization like this can do to help families in need. Volunteering feels good too—I recommend it to anyone who has time to give. What the heck, make the time. It’s that important.

dani December 3, 2009 at 1:25 am

Our local food banks are struggling, too. I don’t know if you’ve heard about it – Kraft Foods is running a campaign through Dec. 31st called Recipe for Joy. They will donate the money for TEN meals to Feeding America for every e-card that you send to a friend or family member. You can go to http://www.kraftfoods.com and look for the Recipe for Joy link, or go to http://twurl.nl/ek4ezo (I hope that works!) The e-cards are not obnoxious, and 10 meals per card is pretty generous, I think. All it costs us is a few minutes of our time.

Rocquie December 3, 2009 at 1:26 pm

Terry, this is a very well written and important post. Hunger is a subject that has been near and dear to my heart, and one which I have been actively involved, for many, many years. I was saddened by the USDA’s new euphemisms for hunger: “Food Insecure”, and worse, “Low Food Security”, and the very worst, “Very Low Food Security”. What a crock!

Terry B December 3, 2009 at 2:34 pm

Dani—Thanks for the links! And I love that you described the e-cards as “not obnoxious.” If I remember correctly, Kraft is one of the corporate donors that supports the Greater Chicago Food Depository too.

Thanks, Rocquie. My friend Ronnie Ann pointed out to me that such terminology actually dates back to at least 1997, as evidenced in an article in the Atlantic, “Let Them Eat Empathy”. Hunger by any name is still a crisis in this country, one we must all help solve.

faces of hunger December 14, 2009 at 5:46 pm

Hi,

Kudos on the article. We held a film contest for filmmakers 25 and under to depict hunger in their locales. We had an online voting stage and the top 6 vote receiving films will be moving on to our screening/awards announcement. A panel of esteemed expert judges on hunger in America and film will choose the three that will win prizes. Anyone in NYC is invited to attend at the Action Center to End World Hunger Dec 21 from 3-5 PM. Rsvp at rsvp@facesofhunger dot org please. We hope to have a great turn out to support these filmmakers and promote awareness! Thanks!

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