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Hunger a reality for more U.S. households

USDA study shows a sharp increase in the number of households that run out of food.

By Karen Datko Nov 17, 2009 3:55PM

The Great Recession will be known for many things -- home foreclosures, lost jobs, inappropriate bonuses on Wall Street.


For us, it has a new face: Nearly one in four U.S. children “struggled last year to get enough to eat,” The Washington Post said in a story about a newly released government report. 

"This is unthinkable. It's like we are living in a Third World country," Vicki Escarra, president of Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks, told the Post.


The Post reports:

In 2008, nearly 17 million children, or 22.5%, lived in households in which food at times was scarce -- 4 million children more than the year before. And the number of youngsters who sometimes were outright hungry rose from nearly 700,000 to almost 1.1 million.

The study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, based on a U.S. Census survey in December, showed a 36% increase in the number of Americans facing food shortages and the worst figures since USDA began keeping track in 1995. 


"The true situation is probably worse than we're seeing (in the USDA report), since that reflects year-old figures,” Food Bank of Northern Indiana CEO Lisa Jaworski told WSBT. “For us here, back in 2005, 2006 and 2007, 300 to 400 families a month was the average (helped). We have had several months this past year where we're over 2,500 families in a month."


Also from the USDA report:

  • All told, about 16% of Americans, or 49 million people, experienced food shortages at home. That amounts to 14.6% of U.S. households.
  • In households with children, the number leaps to 21%.
  • In households headed by single mothers, one in three experienced food shortages, and in one of seven such households someone has gone without eating anything at all.
  • Just over half of the households with food shortages had used government food programs like food stamps, WIC or subsidized school lunches in the previous month.
  • The problem is not limited to the unemployed. The Post said, “The report's main author at USDA, Mark Nord, noted that other recent research by the agency has found that most families in which food is scarce contain at least one adult with a full-time job, suggesting that the problem lies at least partly in wages, not entirely an absence of work."

The Philadelphia Inquirer also reported that hunger isn’t limited to the poorest families:

Indeed, the report showed that 42% of households that came up short on food are between 130% and 185% of the federal poverty level. A family of four at 130% of poverty makes around $29,000 annually; at 185%, it's more than $40,000 annually.
What can we do?
  • When a letter comes from Feeding America or your state food bank network, send a check. Giving money to such organizations goes a lot further than donating cans of soup or other nonperishables. A $1 donation can buy up to 20 pounds of food.
  • Donate food as well. A recent ELF drive in our community helped resupply the local food bank and soup kitchen at a critical time of year. This timeless story at MSN Money will tell you what items food banks need most. Hint: Don’t be like the lady who donated opened packages of sandwich meat to our local soup kitchen.
  • Volunteer your time. Food banks and soup kitchens can operate on a shoestring because most of the staffers aren't paid.
  • Encourage your local supermarket to donate to food banks and soup kitchens. Those that do are protected from liability by the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, so don’t let the store manager use that as an excuse.

Even if your circumstances don’t require that you cut back on holiday spending this year, do so and donate the money you save to feed hungry people.


Related reading:

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