It is a tangible sign of just how bad the American economy is when food banks report that they are falling short of supplying the demand in ways they've never seen before.
One food pantry distributing turkeys at a café in Framingham, Massachusetts, simply cannot meet the demand this holiday season.
United Way Tri-County who runs the pantry is seeing a 400% increase in requests, plus many new faces:
That includes Danielle, who arrived at the pantry with her seven month old son hoping for a turkey. 'I’ve never been through something like this, going through food pantries. I’ve been able to take care of myself but right now it’s hard,' she said. (1)A similar report is coming from a food bank in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where "Sherry Hebert of the Trinity Lutheran Church pantry tells WEAU-TV that its clients used to be unemployed for the most part. But they’ve since been joined by lots of part-time workers who don’t make enough in wages to make ends meet."
It is a disturbing trend that appears to be leading to a tipping point where the ranks of the unemployed and those in desperate need are swelling far faster than those who are able to donate.
The days leading up to Thanksgiving traditionally have been the busiest time for food banks. Current economic conditions are seeing a surge in families who have entered poverty; however, there is also a rise in those who could be considered the working poor, falling into what previously could even have been considered middle class. An executive of a food bank in Boston explains how things have changed:
'The face of hunger is changing, and Greater Boston Food Bank is serving more and more middle class families,' Catherine D’Amato, the food bank’s president and chief executive, said in a statement. 'Nearly half of the people we serve do not qualify for government assistance. These are working adults who simply can’t make ends meet. This is the meal gap.' (2)Despite the claims of corporate media and corporate politicians about indicators of an economic turnaround, the numbers show an increase across the spectrum for food assistance requests. The call for food assistance could be seen as the true benchmark for the economic health of a nation, as it is normally the final place one goes to seek relief when all other options are exhausted.
About 14 percent of Massachusetts residents were in poverty last year, according to the latest revised numbers released by the Census Bureau Wednesday. A 2010 study by The Greater Boston Food Bank, which serves 550 agencies in Eastern Massachusetts, showed the demand for food assistance increased by 23 percent between 2005 and 2009, said spokeswoman Erin Caron. The agency, which distributed 41 million pounds of food last year, expects the upward trend to continue, she said. (3)The revised numbers are not likely to be pleasant.
Another food bank which services over 100 smaller agencies from Massachusetts to New Hampshire reports an additional 30,000 people calling for assistance this season, a 43% increase.
In New York, Hurricane Sandy has added to the economic hardship already firmly in place, and a familiar refrain is stated by relief workers there:
'Even places that were previously bedrock middle-class boroughs have significant amounts of people who are hungry or food secure because there just aren't enough jobs and the jobs that do exist don't pay a living wage,' said Joel Berg, the director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. (4)A recent report by the group shows that 1.4 million of New York's 8.2 million population are not able to be self-sufficient. (5)
These are just a few snapshots about how horrible this Thanksgiving will be for an increasing number of people.
While nearly half the population has decided to use Black Friday to avail themselves of the latest electronics gadget, perceiving that they are actually saving money, the statistics show that America desperately needs to look out for one another. Especially as government assistance is stretched beyond its limits. Now we see that even traditional methods of community aid are beginning to fail.
Instead of purchasing something of very little true value -- from corporations that only suck value from local communities -- look around your immediate neighborhood for those who might need your assistance if you are able to provide it. The person you help today might very well be the person who helps you tomorrow.
And as we head through the rest of the holiday season and into the new year, most likely with less than we had last year, we need to commit ourselves to New Year's resolutions that are less focused on the short-term riddance of personal vices, and instead turn our attention outward to community building, self-reliance, and a commitment to remain strong, independent and prepared so that we can contribute at the highest levels.
With a slight shift toward a long-term perspective, long-term solutions are guaranteed to follow.
Additional sources for this article:
(2), (3) http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2012/11/16/more-massachusetts-families-turn-food-banks-for-help-with-thanksgiving-dinner/KcjMfgl96CnO6mVvwegamN/story.html
Read other articles by Joe Wright Here