Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

U.S. Conference of Mayors Survey Shows We Need Nutrition Programs Now More than Ever

Photo by Flickr user ccstbp

Christmas is the season of food drives. We’re asked seemingly everywhere to bring in canned food (healthy please!) and drop it in a box or leave it on our doorsteps. But how is this small donation connected to the millions of hungry people out there? Our donations to local food pantries are a small, but important piece of the nationwide network of programs working to feed hungry people.

The United States Conference of Mayors recently surveyed 29 cities about those seeking help to find food during this economic downturn.  The results were stark. Eighty-six percent of the cities reported a rise in the number of requests for emergency food assistance over the past year. Ninety-one percent of the cities surveyed had more visits to food pantries and emergency kitchens. Most said that this rising need forced them to reduce the amount of food a hungry person could get at local emergency kitchens and pantries. The food safety net continues to be stretched even as more and more families fall into poverty and turn to public assistance.

While the report adds to our worries of rising hunger, it does bring some hope.  Even while cities struggled with rising need, they still increased the pounds of food distributed by an average of 10 percent. They expanded their food budgets despite the depressed economy. Grocery stores played a big role as well, donating 43 percent of the distributed food. While it is disheartening that so many more people are struggling against hunger, it’s encouraging to see that local governments and businesses are working to meet the need. Congress should follow their lead and protect our nation’s effective nutrition programs.

It’s estimated that local charity and food distribution only comprise 6 percent of the country’s total food assistance to hungry families. The rest comes from our federal nutrition programs, a fact that these cities know well. As Portland reported, “most families that 'shop' at the pantry already get free school meals, and many also rely on SNAP and WIC, but those programs aren't always enough.” Many cities reported focusing their efforts on helping families sign up for SNAP. Nationally, around 13 million people are eligible for the program but don’t receive assistance.

This year, Bread for the World activists worked hard to prevent cuts to nutrition programs like SNAP. While we were successful, this will not be a one-time effort. San Francisco’s response to the Mayors survey was typical: “Cuts proposed to WIC and SNAP would push more households to community-based food assistance programs that are already overloaded.” While local food drives feed many families, they work best when in conjunction with our critical federal programs.

So, next time you drop off your food donations, take a moment to reflect on your role in the national safety net that puts food on the table for millions of hungry families. If you are doing your part, consider asking members of Congress to do theirs.

Ben-d'avanzoBen DAvanzo is Mimi Meehan Fellow at Bread for the World.


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