One in eight Americans will be hungry this year.
The hungry are hardworking adults and their children; they are our seniors; they are our struggling families in the suburbs, in the country, in our cities; they are us. Read their stories here.
The Second Diary in the Series has been posted.
I know, from recent diaries posted here, and from the comments to this diary I wrote last March, that there are (and have been) many here who have experienced the pain of this awful economy first-hand, and have known (or know) what it is like to be hungry.
We, as a community, can help. And I hope we will.
This weekend, a team of kossacks will be posting diaries to help our hungry brothers and sisters. The series, Filling Empty Bowls: 36 Hours for Feeding America begins with this diary, and will continue until the wee hours of Monday morning.
We will help by raising money for Feeding America.
Feeding America is the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity.
Each year, the Feeding America network provides food assistance to more than 25 million low-income people facing hunger in the United States, including more than 9 million children and nearly 3 million seniors.
(Feeding America does this by assisting a network) of more than 200 food banks (that) serve all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.The Feeding America network secures and distributes more than 2 billion pounds of donated food and grocery products annually.
For every $1 you donate, Feeding America will provide 20 pounds of food and grocery products to men, women and children facing hunger in our country.
Food banks across America are under horrific stress. These stories are from newspapers across the United States; all were published this week.
More than 13 percent of Sullivan County residents received help from the U.S. government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in October, a month that broke program participation records across the state of Tennessee.
While some items like produce and milk are decreasing, the New York Times says the cost for packaged items and meat are holding steady and even increasing.
Government and industry economists project that the cost of food will climb in 2009, starting with increases for meat and poultry. The Agriculture Department expects food prices will go up 3.5 to 4.5 percent in 2009. The Times says other economists are projecting increases as large as seven to nine percent.
The high cost of gasoline and groceries, plus the recent economic crisis, have hurt free food sources for hungry families in Illinois Valley this year.
Just when there are more people needing help, resources are drying up or have disappeared because of lack of funding.
"We’re seeing more guests and our guests are needier," said Peter Hilton, president of Open Table, which provides weekly groceries and hot meals to Concord and Maynard residents.
Hilton estimated that the number of guests coming to Open Table has risen by between 20 percent and 25 percent in the last few months. Currently, about 125 guests come to the Concord program and about 75 to the Maynard program, according to Hilton.
"It’s a little challenging for us. Space gets tight and we’re spending more money on food," he said.
Todd Johnson, a Tewksbury selectman and member of the Tewksbury Community Pantry board of directors, said the pantry is currently seeing its highest usage since he started volunteering at the pantry more than a decade ago.
Jane Motowski, director of the Rhinelander Food Pantry, said her organization tallied 706 household visits in November, 200 more than this time last year.
Motowski said that food drives organized by businesses and strong seasonal giving have allowed the pantry to keep pace with demand. Still, she worries about making it through to spring.
"We have put a little aside. It doesn’t take long to go through $15,000 in a month," Motowski said. "It’s coming in, but as more and more people get short it will just get harder and harder."
The Department of Agriculture’s Food Stamp program (now called Supplemental Nutritional Assistant Program -- or SNAP) is simply not enough.
The average food stamp allotment for one person is $21 a week. That means they get $3 a day and $1 per meal. Not quite the budget needed for a well-balanced diet.
Try eating on that, as many public officials and citizens in Bloomington, Indiana did during the last week of November. Read about the psychological and monetary challenges they faced; and imagine facing those challenges every single day.
1 in 10 Americans receives Food Stamps. That number is expected to rise as the economy slides further into Recession.
Food stamps, the main U.S. antihunger program which helps the needy buy food, set a record in September as more than 31.5 million Americans used the program -- up 17 percent from a year ago, according to government data.
The number of people using food stamps in September surpassed the previous peak of 29.85 million seen in November 2005 when victims of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma received emergency benefits, said Jean Daniel of the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service.
September's tally -- the latest month available -- was also boosted by hurricane and flood aid, Daniel said on Wednesday.
But anti-hunger groups said the economic downturn is the main reason behind the higher figures.
"It's a disturbing trend," said Ellen Vollinger, legal director with the Food Research and Action Center. She said she expects more people will turn to food stamps as unemployment figures rise and the economy remains weak.
For a household of two, the federal government considers those with net monthly incomes of $1,167 to be poor and those making no more than $1,517 eligible for food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The line between the middle and lower class is continuing to blur, as October ushered in a 6.5 percent unemployment rate, the highest in 14 years. Goldman Sachs economists predict that number could rise to 8.5 percent by the end of next year.
And just last week, the Labor Department said 542,000 people have applied for jobless benefits this season, the highest such number in 16 years.
With it will come a rise in food stamp enrollment, analysts predict, but some say the benefits won't keep up with the rising cost of food.
"I'm just frustrated that the government is arguing this enough to buy a basic, healthy diet," said Stacy Dean, food assistance policy director for the Washington-based think tank, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Congress sets benefits every June in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture's Thrifty Food Plan, a standard for a low cost healthy diet, that maximum food stamp benefits should cover.
The rate adjustment went into effect in October, the beginning of fiscal 2009, and the maximum food stamp benefits increased 8.5 percent.
The problem, Dean says, is that prices will continue to rise and that rate will remain static until next October unless Congress acts.
While the cost of food in the general Consumer Price Index rose by 5.1 percent from April 2007 to April 2008, the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan (the mix of food items on which low-income people rely) rose even faster. Over the same time period, the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan rose by 7.2 percent.
This increase in the Thrifty Food Plan is a more accurate indicator of how low-income households are suffering from rising food costs, because the Thrifty Food Plan is USDA's estimate of what it costs to purchase a minimally adequate diet. The Thrifty Food Plan is the least expensive market basket of food the government prices – and recommends for short-term use.
The especially rapidly rising cost of the Thrifty Food Plan means that low-income families are struggling even harder to keep hunger at bay. The Farm Bill nutrition title, which Congress recently enacted, will provide help in the medium and long-term, but it is essential that the next economic stimulus bill include a temporary boost in food stamp benefits to help families struggling with rapid Thrifty Food Price increase.
The cost of the Thrifty Food Plan for a family of four is $39 more per month than it was a year ago – that's the equivalent of an extra day of work each month at the minimum wage at a time when most low-income families are already working two or three jobs, and when employers are cutting back on hours, not offering more.
The Thrifty Food Plan is unrealistic for even the thriftiest food shopper – it assumes that they have an in-depth knowledge about nutrition and how to select the healthiest items for the least amount of money, and that they have enough time to prepare most meals from scratch. Those working low-wage jobs with long hours are not just short on money but on time as well. The Thrifty Food Plan also assumes that people are able to buy food in bulk, a particular challenge for those lacking reliable transportation to stores or for those lacking a large-scale supermarket in their community.
The Thrifty Food Plan serves as the government’s basis for Food Stamp allotments. But, studies have shown that the food stamp benefit based on the Thrifty Food Plan is not sufficient for most recipients to be able to purchase the food package in stores in their neighborhoods. For example, researchers in Boston reported that the actual cost of the Thrifty Food Plan exceeded the maximum food stamp allotment in both the small and large stores. Averaging across all stores, the maximum food stamp allotment fell short by almost $27 per month for a family of four.
USDA Food Plan Prices. (.PDF)
Many of those who rely on Food Stamps, and many Americans who are not eligible to receive them -- but are still facing economic challenges to eating -- are hungry today. They depend on food banks.
Please consider a donation to help them. Even $1 or $5 will help tremendously.
I have been blessed this year by this community. If you are struggling financially and cannot afford to donate, please consider sending me an email and letting me add a dollar for you to my donation. It would be my honor to do so; all of you mean so much to me.
Fill a bowl. Bless you.
Please read and recommend each of these diaries this weekend:
Saturday (ALL TIMES EASTERN)
Sunday (ALL TIMES EASTERN)