September is Hunger Action Month.
Feeding America, which used to be known as America’s Second Harvest, is the largest organization that addresses the issue of hunger in the country, with over 200 food banks in all 50 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico. Since 2006 they have published an annual report on the state of hunger in the United States. The 2010 report is based on information gathered from from food banks, soup kitchens, and shelters about the clients they serve. The numbers reflect the recession, but also a reality almost unthinkable in the richest nation in the world.
One in eight Americans has used emergency food supplies in the past year. Feeding America reports that the agencies surveyed served 37 million people; 14 million were children, and almost 3 million were seniors. That is an increase of 46% overall since 2006 and 50% more children.
One way to measure client needs is the concept of food security or insecurity. Food security means that a family has enough food, enough variety to assure adequate nutrition, for all family members. There are lower levels of food security, in which there is less variety and/or less palatability and quantity. Food insecurity means a family does not always know where their next meal is coming from. Food insecurity with hunger means that sometimes there is no food available.
Of the 37 million families served, 76% are food insecure, and of these, 36% experience food insecurity with hunger. 79% of client households that have children experience food insecurity.
Of all clients served, 70% have income below the federal poverty level, with the average monthly income being $940. 36% of client households have at least one working adult. And 10% are homeless. One quarter of client households do not have health insurance, and 30% have at least one household member in poor health. Many families have to choose between food and other necessities like rent or mortgage payments, medical care, utilities or heating fuel, transportation.
What do these numbers mean?
Most obviously, of course, the number of Americans who cannot afford food and other expenses has almost doubled over four years, It means that 28,120,000 people in this country don’t always know where their next meal is coming from, and that almost 10 million sometimes go to bed hungry.
Food pantry clients get one trip per month. The amount of food they get in this trip varies with the contributions the pantry gets. When my son was a teen-ager I used our local food pantry for a couple of years. Sometimes we got beans and rice and some pasta, cereal, and canned vegetables. Sometimes we got considerably more, with bread and peanut butter and jelly and even a few treats. But it is important to remember it is a monthly, not a weekly allotment.
The effects of food insecurity and hunger on anyone decreases their ability to function. In children this is even more serious, since it interferes with their ability to learn. We must remember that all the education reforms in the world are useless unless children come to school fed and healthy and ready to learn. ( This also needs to be taken into consideration when evaluating teachers by student test scores comes up, but that is another issue.)
In the long run, the problem of hunger in America affects our productivity as a nation, as well as our humanity.
The Feeding America site has information on how to locate a food pantry near you, and also ideas for how to contribute. You can link there from the 2010 report I link to below.