Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Going hungry on Thanksgiving

Front paged at Booman Tribune and ePluribus Media

At a time of year when many families are traveling long distances to be with one another, as well as to have quite possibly the biggest meal of the year, it is easy to get caught up in packing, traveling and even giving thanks for whatever it is that people will be giving thanks for (for me it will be health and a safe birth of our son who is due in late March).

But what gets lost in this time of the year, and even the name “Thanksgiving” is the 2nd half of the word – the “giving” part. And unfortunately, in the mix of the class divide that this country has been experiencing, the issue of homelessness and hunger has dropped relatively below the radar, even though it is becoming more and more of an epidemic.

More people are going hungry in a time where prices of food, gas and many other things are skyrocketing while real wages are declining and jobs are being lost (or people are working more jobs for less pay). Sadly, we are seeing more and more stories that take this narrative:

The New York City Coalition Against Hunger said that 1.3 million city residents -- around one in six people -- lived in households that were food insecure, or unable to afford an adequate and consistent supply of food.

"This annual survey of food pantries and soup kitchens shows that more working families, children, and seniors are being forced to seek emergency food," Joel Berg, the group's executive director, said in a statement.

This doesn’t only impact New York – not by a long shot. The Detroit Free Press has a story that estimates 1 million Michigan residents and 35 million Americans are struggling to put food on the table. Food banks in Maine are seeing a major uptick in people coming in and are running short of food and cash.

The Bread for the World Institute just released its annual report on world hunger, and the report’s highlights page paints this all-too-familiar picture (emphasis mine):

The lone homeless person may be the most conspicuous image of poverty in the national media. Less conspicuous, but a much larger group, are the families who cycle in and out of poverty. Families most at risk are those that are just a little better off than poor, surviving on low-wage jobs until suddenly they lose their financial footing because the main wage earner's job has been eliminated or one of the family members has a medical emergency.

Liberals and conservatives agree, no hard working family should have to raise their children in poverty—and yet the sad truth is that many are. Two-thirds of all children growing up in poverty in the United States have one or more working parents, and one-third have a parent working full-time, year round.

Three decades ago, a low-wage job was enough to lift a family of three out of poverty; today, it scarcely comes close to getting them to the poverty line, and without food assistance and other government support a family struggling to get by in the low-wage economy would be on the absolute edge of desperation.

What makes this worse is that some states aren’t making it easier – rather they are making it MORE difficult to feed the homeless. And no, that is not a typo. According to a report that came out last week by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless, more than 20 major cities have laws that PENALIZE those who help feed or shelter the homeless:
The criminalization of homelessness in the United States is a severe problem, with cities across the country implementing measures that ban eating, sitting, or sleeping in public. While these regulations have been on the rise over the past 10 years, laws targeting local churches and other groups who feed or shelter homeless people mark a disturbing new trend that threatens the well-being of America's most vulnerable citizens.

"Restricting the feeding of homeless people in public spaces nationwide is just another veiled effort to push the visible poor out of downtown America," said Michael Stoops, Acting Executive Director of NCH.

Two of the biggest problems of the hunger epidemic are that (1) there is more than enough food in the US – a lot of it is just being wasted, so people don’t think that there is a “food problem”, and (2) just as Hurricane Katrina pulled back the curtain and opened millions of people’s eyes about the major problems that too many people in this country have trying to make ends meet, admitting that there is a hunger epidemic is something that “proud Americans” don’t want to do – this would, of course, shatter the notion of America being able to take care of itself and its’ people.

This was put very well by Anna Quindlen in the most recent Newsweek when she talked about hunger in the US. She also talks about the shortfall of food donations in the US, and just how bad this is:

The director of City Harvest in New York, Jilly Stephens, has told her staff they have to find another million pounds of food over the next few months to make up the shortfall. "Half as many pantry bags" is the mantra heard now that the city receives half the amount of emergency food than it once did from the Feds. In Los Angeles 24 million pounds of food in 2002 became 15 million in 2006; in Oregon 13 million pounds dwindled to six. It's a cockamamie new math that denies the reality of hunger amid affluence.

A number of years ago, my wife volunteered at a number of soup kitchens around the NYC area. And while she can’t get around as much now due to being nearly six months pregnant, it is something that we would like to do again when she is able to. But in the interim, it is something that has become more high profile lately, yet still under the radar. With Thanksgiving upon us and the holiday season already kicking in, there are a few things that can be done to help out, even in a small way.

You can donate to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty at this link. You can donate to the Bread of the World Institute at this link. You can donate to FoodShare at this link.

Or, if you don’t have any extra money to spare, you can donate through The Hunger Site - where all you need to do is click and their sponsors will send food at no cost to you. SecondHarvest helps find local food banks as well, and you can also volunteer at their site. And in a novel idea, this site lets you “click to donate grains of rice”, and was actually featured in a CBS News report last week.

If you made it all the way through this diary, thanks for reading and I hope you and your family have a great holiday. And if you can take a few minutes to click through any of the above links, or even donate a bit of time or money, it will be very much appreciated. Not only by me (not really relevant if I appreciate it, actually), but certainly by those who will benefit from it this Thanksgiving.

And what better way to have someone give thanks on a day that more food will be wasted than I even want to imagine (considering that an estimated 6,000 tons of food are thrown away by restaurants in the US) then to give them something to be thankful for.

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