December 24, 2008

Recession Leaves Many Americans Hungry For The Holidays

As the recession grows, thousands across America are feeling the effects during the holiday season.

The working poor, both young and old, were among those lining up at the Shawnee Community Center in Kansas City, Missouri, quietly collecting handouts of pasta, canned vegetables, peanut butter and other staples to stave off hunger.

Shawnee Community Center volunteer Verta Morris said they are seeing more people this Christmas than last Christmas and many of them are hungry.

Long lines are forming around food pantries all across the recession-hit nation, where U.S. food banks have reported a 30 percent rise in requests for emergency food assistance.

A report issued last week by Feeding America, which supports 63,000 agencies and is the nation's largest hunger relief organization, said the situation is expected to grow worse in 2009 amid rising unemployment, and a consortium of charity groups are calling on Washington for more federal assistance.

U.S. employers cut 533,000 jobs in November alone, the highest monthly number in 34 years.

"We're in a crisis. Absolutely," said Feeding America spokeswoman Maura Daly.

Karen Siebert, spokeswoman for Harvesters Community Food Network in Kansas City, which provides food for 420 food pantries in a 13-county area, said people have just been stretched to the breaking point and they have to turn to someone for help.

The story is the same in big cities and small towns all over the country.

At St. Mary's Food Bank in Phoenix, about 180,000 meals a day are being distributed ahead of the Christmas holiday.

With demand up more than 25 percent, the North Texas Food Bank will distribute 780,000 meals over the holidays.

Spokeswoman Myrita Craig at Cincinnati's Freestore Foodbank, which feeds 160,000 people a year in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky, said demand was up about 20 percent.

"It's really kind of scary to know that that many people are feeling the impact of the economy to the extent that they need emergency food," she said.

Food assistance groups are saying that Congress and the White House need to push forward a series of urgent hunger relief measures.

An immediate increase in food stamp benefits is needed, along with an increase of $150 million to buy, store and distribute U.S. commodities to feed the hungry, according to Feeding America. The group has also asked for $15 million for an already approved but not funded program to deliver food to rural poor.

Daly said 72 percent of food banks reported they are unable to adequately meet the needs of their clients. "It is really becoming more and more difficult every day."

Catholic Charities USA, which said it cannot keep food pantry shelves stocked due to higher demand, is meeting with President-elect Barack Obama's transition team asking for emergency federal aid to nonprofits like food banks and homeless shelters to help feed and shelter the needy.

In Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington, the charity has seen an increase of more than 400 percent in requests for emergency food assistance.

Father Larry Snyder, President of Catholic Charities USA, said addressing this crisis must be the first priority of the incoming Congress and the new administration.


On The Net:

Feeding America