It's time to forget the inaccurate stereotypical image of America's hungry as long lines of mostly homeless men, winding down the block from a church's soup pantry entrance, waiting for their daily meal. The times have changed, drastically. The ongoing economic recession has slowly started to show limited signs of recovery on paper and on Wall Street, but these developments haven't reached millions of Americans. We live in an era with a 10 percent official national unemployment rate, coupled with rising costs of living and stagnant wages. Those shouldering the burden of this economic crisis are barely surviving. For many, they can't even afford basics for survival, such as food.
The Washington Post reported that the federal government's latest statistics show the number of Americans who are food insecure (they lack regular access to food) increased last year 49 million people and 17 million of them were children. More alarming is the increase in the number of children who were just plain hungry, which reached 1.1 million -- that's 21 percent of all households with children with low or very low (i.e. hungry) food security. Those waiting for a daily meal are people of all ages, races and geographic backgrounds.
Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack acknowledges that "poverty, unemployment, these are all factors," in the increase in hunger and food insecurity rates. The government report's author noted, though, "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 just an absence of work."
This report begs the question: how are these people surviving? The federal government isn't able to fully fill this gap. Their anti-hunger programs such as food stamps, school lunches and/or WIC (Women, Infant and Children) only serve about 50 percent of those in need. This is where we all come into the picture. It turns out that last year, 4.8 million households used private food pantries, up from 3.9 million the previous year. Private food pantries rely on people like you and me to survive.
Feeding America, a leading hunger-relief organization, has had increased demand over the past year, coinciding with the report's findings. The organization, which has a network of 200 food banks, provided food to 25 million people last year. Most of these volunteer-run places are refuges to people who would otherwise go hungry. With the increased demand, more support is needed. Wherever you live in the U.S., whether it's a big city, small town or suburban community, there are hungry people who need your help. This is a problem that can be solved but it requires all of our participation as a volunteer, donor and/or advocate. Let's make sure that all of America is fed today.
Sarah's Social Action Snapshot originally appeared on Takepart.com