For most of us this is the time of year when we Americans put on the pounds, especially on Turkey Day and all those days after when there seems to be an endless supply of turkey leftovers. But for an increasing number of people in this country eating to excess is not the problem, rather finding a sufficient supply of affordable food is the challenge. Amidst all the plenty in this land of unbelieveable wealth there is a growing hunger crisis.
Here in Massachusetts, which by most accounts is one of the wealthiest states in the Union , to be specific 4th in terms of per capita personal income, a recent study done by, a local non-profit called Project Bread found that from 2004-2006 the percentage of hungry families increased from6.2% to 8.1%; that translates into over 200,000 families that are hungry on a regular basis and 520,000 individuals who have difficulty putting food on the table. Since these figures are about two years old, add in the economic meltdown, unemployment, foreclosures, bankruptcies and the escalating price of food products and the only conclusion that can be reached is that the situation is even worse now.
Reports from all over Massachusetts and indeed the entire country point to the rapid increase in hunger and greater demands made on food banks, food pantries and religious or community organizations that provide food to the needy. Some of these sources of food for the hungry are facing their own problems as their shelves become empty and contributions dwindle. So in this holiday season the hungry face a double whammy – not only are they hungry, but the people who they have depended on for food assistance are in trouble.
The hunger crisis in this country is compounded by the fact that there are serious health dangers that accompany food shortages for the poor. Type II diabetes, hypertension, and susceptibility to diseases and illness are but some of the side effects of hunger. There is also evidence about the connection between hunger and learning as children who are without sufficient food find it difficult to learn and perform poorly in the classroom setting. There is even a link between hunger and obesity as the needy purchase cheap but high caloric content food with their meager resources and end up facing another health issue. Childhood obesity among the poor is at an all-time high.
Hunger should not be a issue in Massachusetts or anywhere in this country. But what has happened in recent years is that those Americans at the lower levels of our economy saw their incomes and their opportunities barely creep upward leaving them vulnerable when times got tough. There is still cash aplenty out there in the wallets of those who benefited from the golden years. What needs to happen this holiday season is for those with so much have to spread the wealth, this time down the income ladder. Think of it as giving thanks for all those years of living well.