As hunger increases across the nation, so do helping hands

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by Pharoh Martin
For New Pittsburgh Courier

WASHINGTON (NNPA)—As a new USDA report finds that more than a quarter of all African-American households suffered from food insecurity last year, compared to 15 percent of White households, public and private agencies are scrambling to help feed those who might otherwise go hungry.

“Our agencies are reporting seeing increases from 30 to over 100 percent in the demand for food assistance and are reporting longer lines, seeing new faces and the need to reduce the amount of food being given to each family so that everyone gets something,” said Shamia K. Holloway, spokesperson for Capital Area Food Bank, a Washington-based free food distributor. “The economic crisis has touched so many people in unexpected ways; and it puts a squeeze on those already struggling individuals and families. We expect to see more people this year.”

The face of hunger is changing. Holloway said that her organization has received calls from former donors and volunteers who are finding they need assistance from the very organization they used to support.

More than 49 million people lived in food deficient households last year. Nearly 27 percent of African-American and 27 percent of Hispanic households had food deficiencies, compared to 10.7 percent of White households. Food insecurities among African-American households grew by 17.7 percent from 2007 to 2008 and 35.3 percent for Hispanic households, according to the USDA.

“The faces that we’re seeing coming through our door are the same faces that we have seen previously—only more,” said Roxanne Rice, executive director for Food for Others, Northern Virginia’s largest non-profit distributor of free food to the needy. “We see young families with children and the working poor or who had part-time work previously but were laid-off or lost their jobs completely, and they are coming to us for a little bit of help.”

Donations from individuals have stayed steady or have even risen but donations from foundations and corporations have suffered, according to food bank directors interviewed by the NNPA News Service.

Bread for the World is lobbying Congress to reauthorize and strengthen federally funded nutrition and food subsidy programs such as the WIC Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is the new name for the federal Food Stamp Program.

“We are urging our members as well as other people to write to the members of Congress urging them to support the reauthorization of the child nutrition legislation because that legislation will be coming up for a vote again in 2010,” said Racine Tucker-Hamilton, communications consultant for Bread for the World, a Christian-based non-profit focused on eradicating world hunger. “Programs like that and the school lunch program and the food stamp program will [help] families keep food on the table.”

Community churches like Dominion Church of Washington, D.C., are trying to step in and help. The church adopted a local school over the summer and they help them out in special times such as back-to-school and Thanksgiving. This year as in previous years, Dominion Church members are providing Thanksgiving baskets with complete turkey dinners for 15 families. The baskets are completely funded by the church through donations from their 100-member congregation.

“It is known here—don’t just clean out your cabinets. We want you to give the same things you would want to have at your Thanksgiving dinner,” said Wanda Crawford, the events coordinator for Dominion Church who has been overseeing the program for the last 10 years. The members are asked to give their best.

“We have members inside of the church that have had difficulties because of the recession,” Crawford said. “We’ve had people that have worked on Capital Hill that are now unemployed and have come to us and said that they need a basket this year, which wasn’t easy for them to do because they were always ones to give but this year they have nothing.”

Washington-based Martha’s Table is among the many community charities that are serving hot dinners and groceries in need. The non-profit saw one of the most heavily-attended pre-thanksgiving dinners they’ve seen in some time. An estimated 1,000 residents showed up on the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

Homeless residents like James Russell depend on organizations such as Martha’s Table.

“If it wasn’t for places like Martha’s Table I would’ve lost like 60 pounds,” said Russell, who volunteers as a youth basketball coach. In addition to government assistance, Russell depends on many other non-profit organizations to help him get bus tokens and gift cards for local grocery stores. He said that things have become easier since Obama came into office.

Richard Gibson is a former chef that’s been unemployed for six months. He’s also turned to places like Martha’s Table for help. But, he sees hope on the horizon.

“There’s been a greater number of people coming out to get food—people of all races,” Gibson said. “It’s going to take some time but I’m slowly seeing some signs because there are a lot of restaurants coming up that might benefit me in the months to come.”

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