It's hard to fight hunger when you don't see the enemy
Hunger. If you can afford to pay for this newspaper, it's not something that you ever have to grapple with. In fact, there's a good chance you throw away enough food every year to feed another person for months.
But truthfully, few of us ever slow down long enough to notice that we're surrounded by it. Even as we celebrated the birth of our nation's independence last weekend with belly-busting barbecues, it likely never occurred to us that one in every six Americans - roughly 49 million - was unsure where his or her next meal would be coming from. That includes 16 million children whose health, not to mention performance in school, is at risk.
And nearly 5 million seniors over age 60 are "food insecure," with many who live on fixed incomes often too embarrassed to ask for help.
We've heard many of his critics chide President Barack Obama for being "the food stamp president" because there are more Americans on government assistance than any previous administration. This is true for a number of reasons.
The economy tanked, which led to layoffs, which led to hardworking people losing their homes, swelling the ranks of the unemployed and applications for government help. The jobs situation has improved, as was reported Friday in the monthly federal unemployment survey, but not enough to repair all of the damage done by the financial crisis.
That's left organizations dedicated to battling hunger - from the World Food Programme to Feed the Children Inc. to Meals on Wheels - barely holding the front line.
And while the summer is supposed to be the time of year that children look forward to vacations, public school districts around the country are still providing a growing number of their students with their one square meal of the day.
According to Food Research and Action Center, an anti-hunger advocacy group, nationally, only one in seven children who received free or reduced-price lunch during the school year takes advantage of the summer meals programs. That's requiring some creativity on the part of hunger relief workers.
An old logging camp in Oregon, a bookmobile in Kentucky and a karate studio in Delaware are just some of the unusual venues being used to gather low-income rural or suburban kids and hand out the food they need to get by until school cafeterias re-open in August and September, according to a story published by Reuters last week
Reuters quoted George Lunski, who distributes about 700 meals a week to kids along a 40-mile route near Newark, Delaware. "I never knew there were so many people in need," said Lunski, a retired production supervisor at a local chemical plant.
Lunski, who delivers meals from a van loaded with coolers, said the Food Bank of Delaware's Summer Food Service Program was "really an eye-opener" about how widespread poverty is in the ninth-richest U.S. state.
Many years ago, my daughters and I would deliver meals to migrant families on Thanksgiving mornings. It was part of a joint project of the Palm Beach County School District and a local alumni organization that required delivering thousands of meals by noon to families from Jupiter to Delray Beach.
After complaining the first year, the girls came to look forward to it and were disappointed when it ended several years ago. They were so affected by it, however, they've begun volunteering for similar programs on their own.
One, for example, volunteers when she can at the weekly soup kitchen at St. Patrick's Episcopal Church near downtown West Palm Beach. Known to many in the community as Audrey's Soup Kitchen for the now-deceased woman who nurtured it for years, it serves some 200 adults and children every Thursday. That's double the amount of just two years ago; and its growth is only slowed by the amount of food available to prepare and serve.
Whether we call it food insecurity or hunger, the problem doesn't appear to be abating.
Melissa Sullivan, new president of the Palm Beach County Food Bank, put it this way when asked in May about taking over the nonprofit organization that rescues, collects and distributes food to dozens of agencies: "It doesn't take much to think about how scary hunger is. Try to concentrate in the late afternoon when you haven't eaten all day. Then think of children trying to study without a meal on the table. It is happening right here where we live. The reality is that if we can make sure that people have their basic needs met, then they can use that energy to be successful as parents, neighbors, co-workers and students."