Without the fail-safe of local food banks there would literally be no nutritional meals for most of the indigent poor. The essentials of food, clothing and shelter are taken for granted by most Americans but for those whose income resources are meager or perhaps even non-existent such essentials are never fully realized.
The numbers are devastating for a wealthy country like America. According to USDA 2008 statistics:
- Of the 49.1 million people living in food insecure households (up from 36.2 million in 2007), 32.4 million are adults (14.4% of all adults) and 16.7 million are children (22.5% of all children).
- 17.3 million people lived in households that were considered to have “very low food security,” a USDA term (previously denominated “food insecure with hunger”) that means one or more people in the household were hungry over the course of the year because of the inability to afford enough food. This was up from 11.9 million in 2007 and 8.5 million in 2000.
- Black (25.7%) and Hispanic (26.9%) households experienced food insecurity at far higher rates than the national average.
Further data on food insecurity in America can be found in this graph based on information from the USDA:
According to a USDA report entitled Household Food Security in the United States, 2008, “The defining characteristic of ‘very low food security’ is that, at times during the year, the food intake of household members was reduced and their normal eating patterns were disrupted because the household lacked money and other resources for food. Very low food security can be characterized in terms of the conditions that households in this category reported in the food security survey.
Ninty-six percent reported that the food they bought just did not last and they did not have money to get more
Food banks fill the void for families who lack financial resources to provide for their daily nutritional needs. They serve the poorest of the poor and without this back-up system rates of malnutrition and even starvation would increase significantly in a land of plenty.
During normal periods of unemployment food banks struggle but are usually able to meet the demands of the local poor. However, during high unemployment rates as we are currently experiencing the ability to stock food bank pantries goes into crisis mode.
According to the Food Research and Action Center, “very low food security had been getting worse even before the recession. The number of people in this category in 2008 is more than double the number in 2000.”
Food banks are a life line for families who get cut off from the work force. Many who traditionally supplied such charitable organizations prior to the collapse of the economy two years ago now find themselves as recipients of this service.
When many public assistance programs were eliminated during the 1980s local communities found themselves swamped to provide basic nourishment for the elderly, families subsisting on one worker income at minimum wage, the unemployed and their children.
Volunteer efforts through churches, local clubs and private organizations came together in many communities to provide this vital assistance
Sadly, food banks are a testament to the fact that we haven’t advanced much beyond the conditions of Dickens’ characters like Oliver Twist and the street urchins that beg and stole to stay alive in a capitalist society where too few had too much and did too little.
We still refuse to acknowledge that market systems are not fair and balanced; requiring the haves to accommodate the have-nots so they can at least have their “daily bread”.
But for the self-sacrifice of individuals who themselves are not wealthy and the generous donations of many others, many children in this country would suffer developmental issues related to nutrition and diet and elder citizens on a fixed income would have to choose between their food and their medications.
Clearly a national social safety net, properly funded and sustained will always succeed where local private efforts cannot manage. For the time being, food banks have become and will remain a staple of the free-enterprise system that often oppose federally subsidized government programs that address the poor and disenfranchised that are too often treated as the dross of society.
If you are unfamiliar with locations of food banks in your area, the Feed America website has a feature that will pinpoint one to your zip code and provide a few statistics regarding poverty and food insecurity rates in your state.