BLOG ACTION DAY 2011: Right Next Door – Your Hungry Neighbor

Today is Blog Action Day:
Thousands of bloggers globally are focusing on FOOD. Recognizing that
so many people in today’s workplace are unemployed and underemployed,
I’ve chosen to focus on the growing problem of hunger we face in the
United States.  Today is the day to comment, share, give and take action
to ease the pain of hunger in the U.S. and beyond.
 

 

Sarah B, 50, was scared and embarrassed as she entered her local food bank in Napa, California
Close to tears when she approached a friendly food bank volunteer,
Sarah was directed to the latest offerings of bread, canned vegetables,
soups and cereals.  During a typical food bank visit, Sarah and others
can expect about $50 worth of food.

After making a comfortable living for
years as a sales representative in software and related industries,
Sarah finds herself struggling to hold on to the mortgage on her
$300,000 condo. “I’ve worked my
whole life building a little nest egg that was wiped out by two years
of unemployment and stock losses, and now I don’t know what will happen
to me in the future.”
 
Despite her difficult situation, Sarah recognizes that the plight of many others at the food bank is dire.

You don’t expect to hear about food
banks in places like Napa Valley, home to such exalted dining
experiences as the French Laundry, where the prix fixe menu costs $270 pp (service included). But in Napa and affluent suburbs all over the U.S. food banks are on the rise and the demand keeps rising.

According to Larry Sly, the director
of the Contra Costa, CA food bank, 10% of those coming are new people
and he’s unable to keep up with the demand.  Mr. Sly says that the
people now coming to the food bank, especially those used to making six
figure incomes are apologetic.  Like Sarah, these people and families
could have never imagined finding themselves there.

As one volunteer put it, “the
lines are getting longer every day. People are hitting the bottom of
the barrel. This is the real indicator of where the economy is – not the
Dow Industrial average.”

The Hunger Statistics Keep Rising

The “crisis”
in hunger in the United States of America is emblematic of the growing
crisis of poverty. According to the Center on Budget and Policy
Priorities (CBPP) the actual number of Americans living in poverty has
hit 46.2 million, the highest number since the Census Bureau started
measuring poverty in 1959.  The CBPP states that 500,000 more children
fell into poverty in 2010, bringing the total to nearly 16 million.  39
states plus, D.C. have experienced significant rises in their “deep
poverty” status in the past four years and no state saw a decline in
their numbers.

According to a
recent Gallup Poll, that while the U.S. ranks of the middle class
continue to decline, the Chinese middle class has grown since the
mid-1990′s. While more than 20% of all Americans reported difficulty in
putting food on the table, only 6% of Chinese respondents reported that problem, down from 16% in 2008.

In every category, U.S. hunger statistics are abysmal. Feeding America reports that in every group (suburban, rural, child, senior and working poor) hunger is on the rise.

  • The United
    States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that for the third
    consecutive year, 1 in 6 Americans live in households that are food
    insecure.
  • Among the nearly 49 million Americans facing hunger are more than 16 million children. 
  • Five million households experiencing food insecurity include at least one senior. 
  • Food insecurity
    exists in every county in America, ranging from a low of 5 percent in
    Steele County, ND to a high of 38 percent in Wilcox County, AL.

What About OUR Kids?

 

The U.S. likes to think of itself as a “child centric” culture.  We love kids
Tragically, nearly 16 million of them, 3 million who are 5 years old
and under, are estimated to be going hungry in America today.  20% or
more of the child population in 40 states and D.C. lived “food insecure”
in 2010. In 2009, the top five states with the highest rate of food
insecure children under 18 are the District of Columbia, Oregon,
Arizona, Arkansas, & Texas.

In reality, many children are kept
partly fed through Federal and State programs that are increasingly
under political attack.  WIC (the Women, Children’s and Infants
program), the The National School Lunch Program and the USDA’s SNAP program  are the only thing keeping child hunger numbers from exploding through the roof.

When Congress (as part of the Debt
Ceiling Agreement in August 2011) created the so-called Super Joint
Selection Committee to cut 1.5 trillion in deficit reductions over the
next 10 years, these programs were placed in serious jeopardy of
survival.  These cuts and those to other entitlement programs, if
enacted, could send child poverty rates to unprecedented levels.

Is Food A Human Right?

Recalling the words of her motherFrances Moore Lappe, in her  1971 classic book, “Diet for a Small Planet,” author Anna Lappe comments,
“On a planet that produces more than enough calories to make us all
chubby, hunger’s root cause is a clearly not a scarcity of food but a
scarcity of democracy. 
In
the 40 years since Lappe’s ground breaking book started a dialogue
about global food policy, two things have happened; global hunger has
grown and so has the consciousness about food hunger politics and
policies.  For years policies and interventions have been based on the
assumption that hunger, is  a technical issue.  That premise
has resulted in failure.  

All over the globe, failed policies at every level have resulted in growing cynicism and hunger and a growing knowledge that unless hunger is addressed as an issue of democracy, power and human rights, real change – that is, the transformation of hunger is not possible.

While
the rest of the world has increasingly come to see food as a human
right – that awareness has been slow to grow in the United States.
According to Olivier De Schutter, United Nations rapporteur on the right
to food asserts, “It’s
extremely difficult to get the concept of the right of food across in
the U.S. because of the constitutional tradition that sees human rights
as “negative” rights – rights against government – not “positive rights”
that can be used to oblige government to take action to secure people’s
livelihoods.”

Whether
you agree with Mr. De Schutter’s ideas or not, it is difficult not to
understand the basic premise that drives the growing global right to
food movement, “Real freedom can be achieved only when individuals are shielded against the most serious exclusions caused by the market.”

 What YOU Can DO to HELP!

Right
now, today, you have the power to reduce another person’s hunger. 
There are so many wonderful organizations that are mounting heroic
efforts daily to stem the growing tide of hunger in their communities.

Whether you prefer to act nationally or locally, here are some groups that provide food and food assistance to those in need:

Feeding America 
This national organization supplies local food banks and provided food
for over 37 million people in 2010. You can give – whatever you can – in
a one time donation or in a monthly pledge.

 Your Local Food Bank – Nearly
every community or region has a food bank now. Sometimes these services
are independent or provided through existing services or religious
groups. Google your town’s name and food bank to be directed to someone
locally who needs your contribution sorely.

 NoKidHungryShare
our Strength’s growing program to pledge that no kid in the USA will go
hungry by 2015. Through public and private partnerships, NoKidHungry’s
program provides direct food assistance at local levels and education to
raise hunger awareness

Volunteer: Your
local food bank needs your help. Most food banks can only afford
minimal staff salaries and welcome volunteers to support their efforts. 
Advocacy organizations can also use your help to advance educational
efforts to spread hunger awareness and lobby for protections of food
dollars.

Take Action:

Unprecedented mandated discretionary
spending cuts will be made in Washington, DC within the next few weeks. 
Critical food programs are on the chopping block.

Now’s the time to email, call or write your U.S. Senator and Congressperson. 

 Locate your Senator and Congressperson
by your state, go to their website and email or call them today. Let
them know how you feel about preserving programs that serve the hungry.

Register your voice with the Hunger Task Force on Facebook

Everything you do matters.  Your voice is needed now more than ever. Our response now may alter the fundamental course of hunger and poverty in this country.

As always, thanks so much for reading, commenting, sharing – and most important taking action today!

PS Look for a our regular new post each Thursday.

Louise Altman, Intentional Communication Partners

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