Thursday, November 27, 2008

Food Insecurity on Thanksgiving

A fifteen-minute expose on tonight's broadcast of The News Hour with Jim Lehrer on PBS highlighted the challenges faced by food banks and soup kitchens across America. With the current economic downturn, massive layoffs and rising unemployment are pushing more and more families and individuals to seek food assistance from local agencies.

As this wave of need crashes against the American system of emergency food distribution, those very agencies are already overwhelmed as requests for assistance continue to rise. Meanwhile, corporate and individual giving has declined as Americans who might normally donate to their favorite charities are themselves tightening their belts and giving less. Today's news reports demonstrate that some food banks and soup kitchens are sadly in a position wherein needy families are actually being turned away this holiday season.

Currently, 38 million Americans are considered "food insecure". Housing costs and fuel prices are a major factor for many families when it comes to affording basic food needs, although fuel has indeed taken a plunge to record lows in recent weeks (perhaps a temporary economic change). And when such families are eligible to receive food stamps from the government, the average amount allotted is approximately $4.00 per person per day (basically $1.33 per meal). How many of us would be challenged to feed our family a healthy and nutritious meal for $1.33 per person?

While hunger was once seen as a problem of the inner city and rural areas, one-third of poor Americans now live in the suburbs, and hunger in suburban areas is indeed growing while still being largely a hidden phenomenon.

Many of us are painfully aware that a significant number of personal bankruptcies in this country are due to the rising cost of healthcare, and as more and more Americans lose their health insurance after being laid off from work, they will indeed often be faced with a choice between food and healthcare expenses, a particuarly difficult dilemma, especially when children are involved.

Even as millions of Americans sit down to glorious Thanksgiving feasts this afternoon and evening, it is imperative for all of us to realize that there are more than 30 million Americans who face very serious food insecurity on a daily basis. For these individuals and families, even the idea of a Thanksgiving meal might seem like a dream. Perhaps all of us lucky enough to have kitchens filled with nutritious food should consider how we might ourselves contribute to making such dreams more likely to come true.

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