Impact Your World: The global food market’s shelves are getting bare and hunger activists say it will get worse. As the nation marks World Hunger Relief Week, more people are asking: Why are so many people starving and what, if anything, can be done to eradicate hunger? Learn how you can help
Erica Hill | BIO
Thanksgiving is as tied to food drives as it is to turkeys and football. It is the kick-off of the holiday season, when we’re reminded to remember those less fortunate with a can of green beans or a paper stocking at the supermarket. This year, your neighbors need more. And they need it beyond tomorrow.
The people in this country who don’t have enough to eat are your neighbors and colleagues. They may not look like they’re hungry, but hunger doesn’t have a certain look. It doesn’t target one area of the country, one type of person or one socio-economic group. Hunger does not discriminate, and that is what makes the growing number of hungry Americans all the more disturbing.
Last year, 36.2 million Americans were “food insecure” – an official term that sounds generic and clunky, but its meaning is simple: 36.2 million adults and children struggled to find enough to eat. These are parents who may skip meals to feed their children instead, or stretch one meal over a day or even more than one day, because it’s not clear where the next meal will come from. This is more than 12 percent of the population. And when you break down the numbers for children, your heart will break: the number of hungry children in the US rose 50 percent in 2007.
Keep in mind, these numbers are from 2007 – every one I have spoken to since the USDA released the figures last week tells me this year’s numbers will be far worse, and they don’t expect things to improve in 2009. Why? Because in 2007, the economic crisis hadn’t yet begun; people were struggling, but the downturn didn’t dominate the news every night. Banks still had money. The government wasn’t signing off on hundreds of billions of dollars in bailouts. People weren’t looking over their shoulder, worried someone from HR was about to tap them on the shoulder, hand them a box and ask them to please clean out their desk.
“If the data we are reviewing today reflected food insecurity data from the last 12 months, it would be even more shocking,” said Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America (formerly America’s Second Harvest), in response to the report. The Food Bank for New York City tells me the situation for children in NY has been steadily getting worse since 2004, and they expect the 2008 financial crisis will hit with remarkable intensity. They are seeing fewer donations, smaller donations, and an incredible increase in need. It’s a situation the Community Food Bank of New Jersey knows all too well, one their director of market development, Richard Uniacke, called a “perfect storm.” And it is the children who are the most vulnerable when it comes to food insecurity.
“These kids need food, these kids need school supplies, these kids need warm clothing,” Uniacke told me. “They didn’t ask to be in that situation, they didn’t make the terrible choices that put them there.”
The Community Food Bank of New Jersey is one of several around the country that has specific programs targeting children, including the BackPack Program. According to Feeding America, schools in 41 states and the District of Columbia participate in the BackPack Program. As many as 70,000 children are sent home from school on Fridays with enough food to get them through the weekend, nutritious meals they need to keep them focused when they get back to school Monday morning. These back packs and their contents are life-changing.
“It makes a big difference. We see the happy faces when they leave here, and the happy faces when they come back on Monday. Many faces we didn’t see with smiles in the past,” said James Montemurro, principal of Lincoln Elementary School in Newark, NJ. Nearly a third of his students participate in the BackPack Program, and the school is already seeing twice the demand for the program over last year’s number. Those happy faces, according to Montemurro, are directly tied to a full stomach.
“(Before) they were frustrated, they had rough weekends, work wasn’t done. That has changed. It means so much. It just makes our learning environment, our school more productive.”
Filling these backpacks every week costs about four dollars per bag. For four dollars, children can concentrate on schoolwork because they don’t worry about where their next meal is coming from. In addition to the security these bags provide, there is a sense of accomplishment, a feeling that they are helping their family. They can stop worrying so much about their parents’ struggle to feed them, pay the rent and the electricity.
But this small piece of security is also vulnerable. “My biggest concern going into the back pack distribution was our ability as a Food Bank to provide for the BackPack Program,” Uniacke said. “I'm very concerned that if things take a downturn, we're going to have to start cutting back.”
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