35 Million Americans Don't Know Where Their Next Meal is Coming From

America's Second Harvest
Wednesday, 12 November 2003

America's Second Harvest Sees Growing Demand for Help This Holiday Season Chicago

As the holiday season approaches, America's Second Harvest food banks and food-rescue programs are seeing last year's donors and volunteers becoming this year's clients. New government data shows that 35 million Americans are 'food insecure', up from 33 million the year before.

This means 2 million more Americans don't know if they will be able to afford groceries or be forced to ask for charitable assistance. Of this number, more than 13 million are children. For the third year in a row, the number of people facing hunger has risen according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

In an economy slow to add jobs, nearly 9 million Americans are out of work. This is changing the nature of hunger relief in America. The unemployment rate is hovering at 6 percent and the average job search currently lasts for 19 weeks, up from an average length of 12 weeks in May, 2001.

Of the 8.8 million jobless workers in America, almost 2 million have been out of work for half a year or longer, the highest number in two decades, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Once unemployment benefits expire and personal savings and family gifts are gone, wage earners have little choice but to ask for charitable assistance to feed their families.

"During this season of giving, those of us who can afford to give must work together to help their hungry neighbors," said Robert Forney, President and CEO, America's Second Harvest. "Without the work of business, government, and individuals, it could be a less than joyous season for the millions of families struggling to make ends meet."

Across the country, hunger-relief charities are reporting that meeting the increase in demand has put a strain on their operations. America's Second Harvest is a national organization working closely with its regional affiliates to help them meet their local needs. Working with national companies the network can leverage donations of both food and funds to offset local and regional economic stresses, and through its advocacy efforts can raise awareness of federal programs to help families in need of assistance.

But the demand at some local hunger-relief organizations has recently outweighed even that assistance. The Greater Boston Food Bank reported that the high cost of living and the uncertainties in the job market are causing hunger in formerly affluent Boston suburbs. One pantry serving suburban Boston, The Natick Service Council pantry saw a 43 percent increase over the past year.

"We're getting squeezed at both ends," Courtney Hunter-Melo, spokeswoman for Denver-based Food Bank of the Rockies, said. "In general, donations are down about 15 percent. Requests for food are up 30 to 60 percent."

The Michigan-based Food Bank of Oakland County is feeling the pinch. The organization, which provides food to 200 agencies at 300 sites throughout the county, is serving 20 percent more people through its member pantries, according to Executive Director Helen Hicks.

The Houston Food Bank has seen a 45 percent surge in demand for services over the past 10 months, agency officials said. If unemployment continues to rise in Houston, the relief agency expects the need for the fresh and canned food it distributes to area food pantries to outstrip the previous year.

For more information, or to contact America's Second Harvest, see their website at: www.secondharvest.org

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