Help­ing the hun­gry

Our view: Thanks­giv­ing is a time to count our bless­ings and re­mem­ber those who do not nec­es­sar­ily share in the sea­son’s bounty

Baltimore Sun - - TRUMP TRANSITION -

As Amer­i­cans set­tle down for their an­nual Thanks­giv­ing meals to­mor­row, they ought to take a mo­ment to give thanks — not just for the bounty on their own ta­bles but for those who make com­bat­ing hunger a year-round job or av­o­ca­tion.

It is a fact of life that even in the most pow­er­ful and most pros­per­ous na­tion on the planet, there are still mil­lions of Amer­i­cans who are food in­se­cure — mean­ing they lack con­sis­tent, de­pend­able ac­cess to enough food to re­main healthy. Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Department of Agri­cul­ture, the num­ber of such house­holds has been on the de­cline but re­mains vast — about 15.8 mil­lion house­holds suf­fered from food in­se­cu­rity in 2015, or 12.7 per­cent of all U.S. house­holds.

Maryland’s sit­u­a­tion is much the same. About 1 in 8 state res­i­dents are re­garded as food in­se­cure, which rep­re­sents roughly 760,000 men, women and chil­dren from Oak­land to Ocean City, ac­cord­ing to Feed­ing Amer­ica, the non­profit anti-hunger ad­vo­cacy group. What im­prove­ments have taken place — cred­ited pri­mar­ily, ex­perts say, to mod­est gains in the econ­omy and job cre­ation — the de­mand for food pantries and other distrib­u­tors of free food re­mains ro­bust.

What comes next for such anti-hunger pro­grams is hard to pre­dict. Repub­li­cans have long talked about rolling back safety net spend­ing, and with con­trol of both Congress and the White House, the op­por­tu­nity is likely to present it­self. Dur­ing the cam­paign, Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump be­lit­tled the food stamp pro­gram (or SNAP, for Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion As­sis­tance Pro­gram) and its ex­pan­sion un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, but ex­actly how this will trans­late into pol­icy is not yet clear.

What is clear is that too many peo­ple still go to bed hun­gry. Two years ago, Pikesville CPA and mother of two Lynne Kahn de­cided to help do some­thing about it, cre­at­ing an all-vol­un­teer city-based pro­gram to stuff the back­packs of se­lected stu­dents with food to help carry them through the week­ends. Today, the Bal­ti­more Hunger Pro­ject now serves 160 chil­dren en­rolled in eight Bal­ti­more and Bal­ti­more County el­e­men­tary schools (up from 30 kids in two schools in its first year), pro­vid­ing them with shelf sta­ble, ready-to-eat op­tions on days when school cafe­te­rias sim­ply aren’t avail­able to them.

“There’s a tremen­dous need, and we’re just start­ing to scratch the sur­face,” Ms. Kahn ob­serves.

At the Maryland Food Bank, an army of nearly 900 vol­un­teers on Mon­day fin­ished as­sem­bling hol­i­day meals un­der its “Pack To Give Back” pro­gram that are be­ing distributed to 11,000 fam­i­lies across the state, with half of them in Bal­ti­more. Those Thanks­giv­ing meals, in­clud­ing tur­key, stuff­ing, green beans, corn muffins and the like, rep­re­sent one of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s most costly un­der­tak­ings but pro­vide a truly mean­ing­ful Mid­ship­men 1st Class Steve Phillips, left, and 3rd Class Mag­gie Dods help with the Naval Acad­emy Mid­ship­men Ac­tion Group’s Har­vest for the Hun­gry Food Drive. ex­pe­ri­ence for vol­un­teers and re­cip­i­ents alike.

This past year, the Maryland Food Bank pro­vided 44 mil­lion meals to lo­cal res­i­dents, or120,000 per day. Yet, as spokes­woman Meg Kim­mel noted, the or­ga­ni­za­tion could eas­ily triple the amount of food distributed — if it had the re­sources and the vol­un­teers. Such is the un­ceas­ing de­mand by in­di­vid­u­als liv­ing on the mar­gins of so­ci­ety.

“If there’s one thing peo­ple can agree on, it’s that ev­ery­one should have ac­cess to food,” Ms. Kim­mel says.

Why do so many still go hun­gry? The chief cause is poverty. But it’s not just peo­ple who­lack a job. Nearly half of Mary­lan­ders who are food in­se­cure are em­ployed but liv­ing pay­check to pay­check. Some­times, af­ter pay­ing the rent and other bills, there sim­ply isn’t enough for proper nutri­tion. And then there are the city’s food “deserts” where healthy food is not only harder to find but of­ten more ex­pen­sive to pur­chase.

Home­less­ness, drug ad­dic­tion, un­sta­ble fam­i­lies, all can play a role. And while there are gov­ern­ment-spon­sored pro­grams to help, in­clud­ing SNAP and the school lunch pro­gram, many still fail to take ad­van­tage of them. Thus, some­times what is needed is some­one to qui­etly stuff a child’s back­pack with a can of Vienna sausages or boxes of ce­real and milk.

Per­haps this year, in­stead of ar­gu­ing over the last elec­tion of the state of pol­i­tics, it might be more pro­duc­tive for fam­i­lies celebrating Thanks­giv­ing to take a mo­ment to think about those less for­tu­nate. Bet­ter yet would be to make a do­na­tion — per­haps through www.mary­land­food­bank.org or some other de­serv­ing provider — and rise above the di­vi­sive pol­i­tics that have cap­tured so much pub­lic at­ten­tion of late.

BY PAUL W. GILLE­SPIE/CAP­I­TAL GAZETTE

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