Every year from just before Thanksgiving to just before Christmas, American society shines a spotlight on hunger. Local TV stations publicize seasonal food drives, or perhaps take part in sponsoring one.
Another well-publicized food drive happens in conjunction with the Super Bowl. The news cycle soon moves on to something else. The problem doesn’t. That’s why I’m writing about it now.
I used to live in DuPage County, Illinois, one of the nation’s most affluent counties. There are pockets of poverty even there. But lack of money is only one cause of food insecurity. Many neighborhoods lack grocery stores, or any stores where residents can get fresh produce and meat.
If people in these neighborhoods have cars, they can drive somewhere, but if they don’t, they are limited by the inferior selection offered by convenience stores or fast food restaurants—even if they could afford groceries if they had access.
Here are some important details about hunger in America from Feeding America, the largest network of food banks in the country:
- One in six Americans lacks access to sufficient food.
- USDA statistics indicate that 50 million Americans don’t get enough food because of their limited resources.
- Hunger is not limited to urban areas; more than 2 million rural households lack dependable access to sufficient food.
- Persistent poverty in rural counties can make it more difficult for food relief organizations to support hungry people than in urban areas.
- Hunger is not limited to the homeless or unemployed
- More than a third of households helped by Feeding America’s networks include at least one adult with a job.
- Almost a fifth have attended college or technical school; education does not automatically provide food security.
- Children benefit from school lunch programs, but only when school is in session. Otherwise, 17 million live with food insecurity.
- Inadequate nutrition affects not only children’s physical growth, but also behavioral and cognitive development.
- Food-insecure children experience more fatigue, irritability, and difficulty concentrating than other children, which hampers their classroom performance and progress.
Quite apparently, the poor suffer from more than lack of money and lack of access to good food. They also suffer from ignorant stereotypes.
What can Americans do about hunger in their midst?
- Ditch the stereotypes and recognize that some of the people you see going about their jobs are as food insecure as any panhandler.
- Don’t limit your giving to holiday seasons. The problem exists year-round.
- Donating non-perishable food to a food bank is good, but donating money is even better; the food bank can buy much more food with a dollar than you can.
Photo credit: US Department of Agriculture