Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hunger Close To Home

I was listening to a report on Michigan Public Radio this morning do a study about poverty levels in Michigan. The report stated one in five children in Michigan live in poverty. 1 in 5!

This prompted me to want to re-run an article I wrote last year and post it here. Some food for thought:

Would you know if your next door neighbor frequently visited an area food bank? Chances are you might not. After all, you’ve been neighbors for more than ten years. People in your neighborhood work hard at their jobs, own their homes and drive decent cars. Your kids ride the same bus and participate in the same activities. Surely, you’d know if they didn’t have enough food to eat? The fact is some of our neighbors and their families are indeed hungry.
We’ve seen the national stories portraying the changing faces in lines at soup kitchens and food banks, and the increase in their numbers. These people and their families are not just national statistics, or inner city residents. Some of these families live right here in Saline. Our friends. Our neighbors. People who never thought they would be the ones in need, and certainly determined to keep their struggle hidden.
A 2006 national hunger study by America’s Second Harvest Network showed that ninety-six point eight percent (96.8%) of adult food bank clients, have their own homes or apartments, with utilities and their own vehicles. These are homeowners forced to make difficult decisions in order to keep food on the table.
The number of food bank clients on a national scale grew sixty-seven percent (67%) from 2001 to 2006, before the economic downturn, loss of jobs and home foreclosures. Today, over one million people in Michigan alone visit food banks annually. According to the Food Gatherers website in Ann Arbor, they feed 5, 569 people weekly in Washtenaw County. Of these weekly visitors thirty-eight percent (38%) are children and seven percent (7%) elderly. Thirty-three percent (33%) are forced to choose between groceries and paying utilities, twenty-eight percent (28%) choose between food and making the mortgage payment and twenty-five percent (25%) must decide whether they should skip their prescription medication for the month so they can buy food goods.
The Hunger In America Study 2006 looked at the number of people receiving food help who were considered “Food Secure” or “Food Insecure”. According to the study Food Security is defined as “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life”. Even with the help of food assistance programs, only about twenty-two percent (22%) were considered to be Food Secure. That number might be higher if there were more donations to area food banks, especially as the demand keeps climbing.
Sue Brown is the Director of the Saline Area Social Services. Her office is seeing “ a lot more families with children, mainly due to the economy,” Brown said. Her office serves any person or family residing within the Saline Area School District. “One hundred children benefitted from our holiday program this year,” Brown said. One hundred kids. That’s like taking one entire grade from one of Saline’s four elementary schools. Still think it couldn’t be your neighbor?
Saline is a great city with tremendously generous residents. Neighbors still bake pies for the new family on the block. Our shop owners know customers by name. People hold doors open and wave dog walkers across the streets. It is time to take that spirit of community to the next level, a call to action, if you will. What can you do?
We really need “anything and everything, especially pre-packaged food with meat in it like canned Dinty Moore Beef Stew or tuna” Brown said from the Saline Area Social Service office. She adds “and we never, ever have enough paper products because food stamps don’t cover things like toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning products” or anything that isn’t a consumable. Brown reminds us too that donations are especially needed in the summer months. “Donations go way down because people are away (on vacation) and many of our clients’ kids participate in the free lunch programs at school, so lunch stuff is needed” when school is out of session.
Washtenaw County has many different food rescue programs, soup kitchens and general support through local and state government, and non-profits including churches and other places of worship. In Saline, the list of people being helped is extremely confidential and handled with the utmost respect and dignity. Still, there are families out there who will never make their need known to the public.
So what’s the message here? It’s time for neighbors who can afford it, to reach out to neighbors who can’t. Food baskets aren’t just for holidays anymore. Support your local food bank. The food you donate today may help feed the family right next door tomorrow. For information on how to donate or receive help contact Saline Area Social Services 734-429-4570 or Food Gatherers 734-761-2796.

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