Feeding the hungry more important than monments

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 6, 2004

About the only time I go to bed hungry is when I’m trying to lose weight. That’s not the case, though, with far more people than we would like to acknowledge. They go to bed hungry because they don’t have enough to eat.

An even greater number are uncertain whether they’ll have enough food. In the language of the bureaucracy, they are “food insecure.”

The Economic Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture says that in 2002, 11.1 percent of U.S. households (12.1 million) were food insecure. “At some time during the year, these households were uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources. About one-third of food-insecure households (3.8 million, or 3.5 percent of all U.S. households) were food insecure to the extent that one or more household members were hungry, at least some time during the year, because they could not afford enough food.”

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The other two-thirds of food-insecure households obtained enough food to avoid hunger by eating less varied diets, participating in Federal food assistance programs, or getting emergency food from community food pantries.

I see some of those people the Research Service is talking about when it is our church’s turn to help at the food pantry that a coalition of churches started in our area a couple of years ago.

If I saw them on the street, I probably wouldn’t know that they had a problem.

Even though it isn’t always easy to recognize, hunger is there. It is there in the children of poverty who are unable to fend for themselves and in the old whose decisions on how to spend limited incomes often put nutrition at the bottom of the list. It is there in the working poor for whom a sick child, a broken automobile or a temporary job layoff spells financial disaster.

E. Parke Hinman, executive director of the Montgomery Area Food Bank which serves 24 counties in Central Alabama (including some of the nation’s poorer counties), has seen the situation worsen in the past few years. Other food banks across Alabama and the nation are having the same experience, he said.

The Economic Research Service reports that the nonmetro South has the greatest prevalence of poverty and persistent poverty. “More than one in six persons in the region are poor and more than one in four live in persistent poverty counties.”

The uncertainties since Sept. 11, 2001, have resulted in fewer donations to the food banks, Hinman said.

In addition, grocers that once donated dented cans to food banks now sell them to dented can stores and dollar stores. It’s understandable; traditional grocers are locked in competition with giant discounters.

While donations of nonperishable goods have declined, gifts of frozen and perishable food have increased. They are more expensive to store and distribute. Many of the small agencies that receive food from the food bank have limited or no facilities to store frozen and perishable food.

The organizations that provide food assistance are seeing more working poor, Hinman said. He pointed out that more than 28 million people – that’s about a quarter of the work force between the ages of 18 and 64 – work at jobs that pay less than $9.04 an hour. That translates into $18,800 a year and marks the poverty level for a family of four – as if a family of four could really live for a year on that amount.

Pictures from famines half-way round the world of children with bloated bellies and adults whose bones threaten to break through their skin make hunger obvious.

It is more difficult to recognize the hunger that is around us every day. And, it seems, it is harder to do something about it.

There are a multitude of Christians (and people of other faiths, too) quietly going about feeding the hungry. There are some Christians, though, who spend a lot more time claiming that their rights are being suppressed. It’s easier to drum up a crowd to support displaying the Ten Commandments in a government building than it is to get volunteers to staff a soup kitchen.

It seems to me, though, that the Bible is a lot more direct in telling us to feed the hungry (that admonition does not instruct us to decide who is worthy of being fed) than it is in telling us to carve the Ten Commandments on a monument down at the courthouse.

Bill Brown can be contacted at 377 Quail Hollow Drive, Dadeville AL 36853 or by e-mail at williambrown1@charter.net