Note: When I first posted this yesterday, I wrote that "one in eight" is food insecure. I did my math wrong: it is one in SIX of us! I corrected the post below.
Just ten days before Thanksgiving this year, the USDA released its annual report on food insecurity in this nation. "Food insecurity" is the measurement of the degree to which one's access to "enough food" (enough to meet basic nutritional needs) is limited by a lack of money and other resources.
The news was not good.
Here are some of the grim facts, compiled by Feeding America in its review of the report:
- In 2008, 49.1 million (16.4%) Americans lived in food insecure households compared to 36.2 million (12.2%) in 2007.
- In 2008, 17.2 million (14.6%) American households are food insecure compared to 13 million (11.1%) in 2007.
- In 2008, 8.3 million (21%) households with children are living in food insecure households compared to 6.2 million (15.8%) in 2007.
- In 2008, 16.7 million (22.5%) children are living in food insecure households compared to 12.4 million (16.9%) in 2007.
- In 2008, 2.3 million (8.1%) households with seniors were living in food insecure households compared to 1.8 million (6.5%) in 2007.
- The number of individuals who are food insecure increased 36% over 2007 and the number of children increased 35% over 2007.
Just this past weekend, the New York Times ran an article about food stamps. Guess what? Food stamp programs nationwide are seeing a huge influx of applicants. About 20,000 people per day are added to the program. In some parts of the country, the rolls have more than doubled in two years.
In the Times article, an undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture, which administers the food stamp program, is quoted as saying, "[t]his is the most urgent time for our feeding programs in our lifetime, with the exception of the Depression. It's time for us to face up to the fact that in this country of plenty, there are hungry people (emphasis added)."
We are all growing hungrier and hungrier - some of us literally, some of us figuratively. Some of us do without or skimp on meals so there is more for others at the table. Some of us have family members and friends who struggle to get enough food. Some of us prepare food wondering who in our hometowns is going hungry tonight?
One in six of us is.
Many of us just celebrated a holiday dedicated to eating. Coming up next is a season of multiple holidays in which foods play an important role.
Locally, People in Need (P.I.N.) is gearing up for its annual Holiday Clearing House, which distributes food, toys, and necessities for the holiday season to needy families. Last year, P.I.N.'s holiday efforts helped 491 families and 168 seniors/disabled households. This year the numbers are even greater; P.I.N. had over 500 families registered more than two months ago.
And that's just for the holidays. In 2008, P.I.N, which runs our emergency food pantry, provided 51,650 meals to 1845 households. In those households were 3246 adults and 2554 children. That was a 10% increase over 2007. 2009 will see even greater numbers.
As the staff and volunteers that run P.I.N. know, hunger is more than just a seasonal affliction. We know that in our household - the Symphony's Board of Trustees has already given Warren the go-ahead for another benefit concert in 2010 to help fill the shelves of P.I.N.'s food warehouse.
I have written about hunger before and I will in all likelihood write about it again. To me, hunger is the face of the Great Recession. I see hungry clients at our monthly legal clinic. I see hungry individuals at court when they sign in at the bailiff's table. And sometimes I see a hungry family member at our own table, which makes me quietly pack a bag of groceries, grateful that I have something to share, even if it is just peanut butter and crackers, pasta and homemade tomato sauce.
In this holiday season, while we are planning our holidays meals, let us not forget those of us whose cupboards and refrigerators are bare. Find a food bank or a meals program. Donate dollars, donate food, donate time, not just for this season, but for all seasons.