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Hunger in America is Growing

December 7th, 2009 at 11:30 pm



Shortly after Thanksgiving, the New York Times reported on the rapid rise of food stamp use across the country. Shockingly, there are 239 U.S. counties, from the Bronx to Appalachia, where at least a quarter of the population receives food stamps. In the cities of St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans, the Times reported, fully half of all children receive food stamps. And it is in some of the nation's richest counties, like Forsyth County, Georgia and Orange County, California, where the use of food stamps is growing most quickly.

The spike in food stamp rolls has often followed industry busts, from the collapse of the recreational vehicle business in Elkhart County, Indiana to the slowdown in car parts manufacturing in northwest Ohio. In southwest Florida, food stamp use rose sharply along with high foreclosure rates.

One food bank volunteer quoted in the Times story was surprised to find that people seeking aid were "knowledgeable, normal, well-spoken, well-dressed. These are people I could be having lunch with."

The USDA's 2008 report on Household Food Security in the United States stated that 14.6% of American households were "food insecure" for at least part of the year, meaning that the diet of one or more family members was reduced or disrupted due to lack of money to buy food. This represents the highest rate of food insecurity since 1995, when such data was first collected.

In my home state of Connecticut, the Connecticut Food Bank notes that soup kitchens and food pantries it serves have reported an average 30% increase in demand for their services this year.

In my hometown, an affluent suburb in Fairfield County, Connecticut (population 26,000), there are not one, but two, food pantries which permit those in need to pick up groceries once a month. One of them is run by the Connecticut Food Bank, which expects to serve more than 300,000 residents this year. There is no income verification, unlike the federal food stamp program, where eligibility hinges on both income and savings. (I approached one of the food pantries, where I had volunteered several years prior, about volunteering once again when I lost my job last fall, but I was told they had all the volunteers they could use. The need for donations, of course, remains constant.)

Has hunger in your part of the world increased, decreased or remained about the same this past year? Have you ever participated in food stamp or food pantry programs and, if so, how much of an impact did it have on your family budget?



8 Responses to “Hunger in America is Growing”

  1. DeniseNTexas Says:

    Years ago when we had a house full of kids and very little income we got food stamps for 6 months. As for the impact on our budget it was huge! We got a little over $500 a month in food stamps but shopped frugally and stretched that 6 months of food stamps into over a year's worth of food. It was great not having to worry about feeding everyone but we didn't go crazy and buy chips, soft drinks, etc. I was a mean mom and bought only healthy foods with them. The food stamps were a real blessing at the time and we greatly appreciated them.

  2. mjrube94 Says:

    I've read similar stories about food banks in Northern NJ which are really hurting. Increased demand and decreased donations are a tough combo.

  3. Analise Says:

    I've been blessed not to have had to use a food bank personally, but in my role as principal of a large urban school, 80% of my students were from "socioeconomically disadvantaged" homes. I have seen the face of hunger first hand and it cuts me the core. Most of my students participated in the federal lunch program that gave them free breakfast and lunch. Sadly for many, these were the most substantial meals of their day.

    My family has made a commitment to donate to and volunteer time at our local food bank. There is a dire need here in affluent Silicon Valley.

  4. Ima saver Says:

    I buy food for our local food bank every week.

  5. Joan.of.the.Arch Says:

    In St. Louis mentioned above (my town) 62% of children eat because of foodstamps and the meal programs at school. Imagine! Did you know that foodstamps also allow for the purchase of seed for food gardens? Aldi's sells seed in spring and the seed rack gets bought out at my Aldi's which does a helluva lot of foodstamp (EBT) business.

  6. fern Says:

    I always get such interesting comments back.

    Denise, your comment reminded me of a similar comment about soda in the Times story I read, that soda was a "luxury." I always thought of it as dirt cheap, though certainly not nutritious.

    Joan, no, you can buy garden seeds with food stamps? That's very interesting, and I guess I wouldn't object since the pennies used on seeds could yield quite a bit more in produce. It might be worth looking to see if there's some kind of list of items food stamps can be used to buy.

  7. LuxLiving Says:

    http://www.fns.usda.gov/FSP/faqs.htm#10
    See FAQ #10 for eligible foods.

  8. fern Says:

    Thanks for that link, Lux.

    For those of you who were interested, as I was, in exactly what food stamps cover besides food, the program website does indeed state that both "seeds and plants which produce food for the household to eat" are included.

    Food stamps will NOT buy liquor or cigarettes, pet food, soaps, paper products, household supplies, vitamins or medications, "hot foods" or "food that will be eaten in the store."

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