Those who serve in soup kitchens and shelters for the poor see the human face of the sputtering economy. The volunteers don’t need statistics to tell them that many people have hit bottom.
York County charitable organizations that focus on feeding and housing those in need are seeing more people walk through their doors and are seeing food disappear from their shelves more quickly as the effects of the recession linger. And many of those asking for help are first-timers, people who have never had to rely on a handout before.
The story is the same across the nation. Record numbers of U.S. households struggled to put food on their tables last year, according to a report last week from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the state of hunger in America.
A record 17.9 million U.S. households – 700,000 more than in 2010 – didn’t have enough food at all times last year to sustain active, healthy lives for all family members. Nearly 9 million children lived in homes without a steady supply of food, and 845,000 children were in households with very low food security.
The problem also is reflected in the rise in demand for food stamps. Food-stamp use reached a record 46.7 million people in June. Food-stamp spending, which has more than doubled in four years to a record $75.7 billion, is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s biggest annual expense.
Such widespread hunger in a land of plenty always is something of a mystery. Another recent report by the Natural Resources Defense Council states that an average American family of four squanders $2,275 in food each year, or 20 pounds per person, per month.
In all, Americans throw out about 40 percent of the nation’s food supply every year. And the U.S. wastes far more food than most nations around the world.
This is not simply individual food waste. Tons of food are sent to the landfill all along the supply line, from farms to distributors to restaurants to kitchen tables.
So, why do so many Americans go without? Obviously, despite ample supplies, we have a problem getting food to those in need.
While some complain about the cost of government assistance such as food stamps and school lunch programs, they are among the more efficient methods of distributing food to the poor, especially children.
But food banks, churches and other private groups fill an important niche, providing food when public programs don’t. And donors, both individuals and businesses, offer the means for these charitable organizations to feed the hungry.
Area organizations have made it clear that, despite some improvement in the economy, many still are finding it hard to get enough to eat each day. We hope that residents will step up to help out, donating money or food to the many worthy groups in the community working to extend a helping hand to those who are down on their luck.
We need to work together as a community to make sure that when people seek help, no one is turned away.