Food banks face 'critical shortage' over holidays
Katie Baker
Published: Friday December 21, 2007 |
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Food banks across the United States are in desperate need of food or else many will go hungry this Holiday season, reports the Jim Lehrer News Hour. Chicago correspondent Elizabeth Brackett visited numerous food pantries throughout the city, all of which are struggling with lack of supplies.

According to Debra Ocampo, director of the Union Ave. United Methodist Church Pantry, supplies have gone down to about 2/3 of what they were in recent years. These past months have been especially troubling: barely any vegetables or fruit have been donated.

"From week to week we worry ... are we going to be able to feed the people who come in?" says Ocampo.

Vicki Escarra of America's Second Harvest estimates that more than 35 million Americans lack access to enough food to stay healthy.

"This is a really critical time [to turn people away]," she says.

It's not just the homeless who are affected, but 25 million Americans, including individuals who are unable to work to support themselves: 9 million children and 3 million senior citizens are in need of food.

"I knew I had to swallow my pride," says David Suarez, a senior citizen recently overwhelmed by medical bills. Suarez and his wife found themselves in want of food for the first time in their lives due to their recent illnesses.

"I never expected to be 'everybody,'" says Suarez, but adds that the people at the food bank made him feel welcome and "told [him] not to walk around with [his] head down."

Banks and pantries receive most of their food from government commodities and donations from the food industry, with the rest coming from local donations. Unfortunately, government commodities have decreased to less than half of what they were two years ago, due to a healthy farm economy and higher food prices.

Additionally, the 140 million dollars allocated for the Government's emergency food assistance program (EFAP) doesn't buy as much food as it did when the program began in 2002. Would the newly proposed farm bill -- which calls for 250 million dollars allocated as well as more money for fruits and vegetables -- help the cause? According to Kate Maehr, president of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the bill, which is currently under danger of presidential veto, would mean that "food would flow out ... all throughout this community."

Unfortunately, the bill is not a solution for the immediate crisis, and it's not just Government commodities that are in decline. For years, large food companies have donated dented and crunched cans to food banks. But, due to higher efficiency standards and better operating systems, less flawed cans are produced, causing a decline in food industry donations.

"At the end of the day ... that's part of the changing landscape of being a food bank," says Maehr.

Now, according to Maehr, food drives are becoming a critical source of food. But, will small, local donations really help the crisis? Maehr says she "couldn't get out of bed in the morning" if she didn't believe individual donations could make up for the decline in government and corporate donations.

But, without a significant increase in contributions before the end of the year, Maehr feels that "hunger will be a part of far too many Americans' holiday season."

The following video is from PBS's Jim Lehrer News Hour, broadcast on December 19, 2007