November 25, 2010
This Thanksgiving at food pantries, soup kitchens, church halls and community centers, the numbers have risen dramatically: Some locations are seeing twice the number of “clients” from two or three years ago.
Nationwide, food insecurity rates — a new socially correct euphemism — are the highest since the U.S. government began keeping track 15 years ago, according to a new USDA report. Some 14.7 percent of U.S. households, or 45 million people, reported that they did not know where their next meal was coming from.
The stubborn recession has hit the unemployed, the underemployed, fixed-income seniors, low-income students, and members of the middle class in the gut, and they’re showing up for emergency meals and food supplies. “With recent budget cuts, there are no other supports for these people,” said Carlos Rodriguez, an executive with Food Bank for New York City, one of the country’s largest food banks. “There’s no backup. A fixed income is truly fixed.”
“We are very busy, with more people coming in, and many of the hungry we’re seeing are out of work,” said Cardella Jackson, manager of the soup kitchen at Bethel Holy Church in Manhattan. This Tuesday, her group served a Thanksgiving midday meal to more than 100 grateful people.
At the Freestore Food Bank in Cincinnati, Ohio, Brian MacDonnell, vice president of communications and strategic planning, described a recent conversation with a needy patron who came in for Thanksgiving food. “The man is in construction but said there’s just not enough work to go around.”
The Fiscal Times spoke to three major food banks for the latest numbers and new insights this holiday season. Here’s what we found:
Food Bank for New York City
Distributes: About 70 million pounds of food annually to 1.4 million people through its 1,000+ programs in the five boroughs. It’s the city’s major hunger-relief organization and has been around for 27 years. It serves one of six seniors in NYC.
Thanksgiving handouts: More than 25,000 birds (both turkeys and roasters). “But even that isn’t enough,” said vice president Carlos Rodriguez. “The need is great.”
Revelation: “Since the beginning of the financial crisis, we’ve seen a 20 percent jump in visitors to our programs,” said Rodriguez. “This is on top of a 24 percent increase from 2003 to 2007. We’re very concerned about these numbers, especially since a recent survey indicated that 3.3 million more New Yorkers are at risk of becoming food insecure if they lose their jobs.”
Capital Area Food Bank, Northwest Washington, D.C.
Distributes: About 30 million pounds of food annually to more than 700 agencies and nonprofit groups around the Beltway, up from 27 million last year. The food bank is down 25 percent in public support, though just yesterday it received a $5 million private donation, which will go toward construction of a new facility to increase its capacity. The food bank was founded in 1980.
Thanksgiving handouts: Includes turkey, chicken, corn, potatoes and dessert.
Revelation: “We’re seeing college students, middle class folks and seniors who were not the face of hunger before,” said Christel Hair, chief development officer. “We’re also committed on every level to distributing more fresh produce than in the past. We deal in the short term as well as the long term.”
Freestore Foodbank, Cincinnati, OH
Distributes: Over 12 million pounds of food annually to residents of 20 counties in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. The food bank’s 350 member agencies include soup kitchens, shelters, churches and senior centers, and its own pantry in Cincinnati distributes 2 million pounds of food to more than 40,000 people a year.
Thanksgiving handouts: Well over 2,200 boxes of holiday meals, each one including a turkey or chicken as well as vegetables, pasta, potatoes, onions and brownie mix, given out Monday through Wednesday of this week in downtown Cincinnati, as well as through other programs and agencies in rural Ohio and Kentucky.
Revelation: “We’ve had a 60 percent increase in traffic in the past two years and are seeing a lot more working people and first-time visitors,” said Brian MacConnell. But the food bank goes beyond handouts. “We help people find and use other supports in the community so that they can become stable and self-sufficient,” said John Young, CEO. “The food is just the beginning.”