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Food Banks Struggle To Meet The Needs Of Millions Of Hungry Americans In The Aftermath Of The Harsh Winter Season
Feeding America, the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief organization, is anticipating a spike in need as schools across the country close for spring break. The network of more than 200 food banks is encouraging donations of food items that are healthful, high in protein and nutrient rich. Together, they provide food to more than 37 million people through 61,000 food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters in communities across America. Feeding America also supports programs that improve food security among the people it serve; educates the public about the problem of hunger; and advocates for legislation that protects people from going hungry. Individuals, charities, businesses and government all have a role in ending hunger.
“About 37 million Americans rely on food pantries and kitchens served by Feeding America to help feed themselves and their families each year. In the next few weeks, many of our food banks are anticipating that the people they serve will need significant additional help providing for their families when public schools close and millions of children lose access to free and reduced-priced school meals,” said Bob Aiken, CEO of Feeding America.
“Feeding America has made significant progress in recent years in increasing the quantity and quality of the food we distribute. We are grateful for any help our supporters can provide – whether that is donating food or funds, advocating on behalf of people at risk of hunger, or volunteering,” Aiken said.
For those who are interested in donating food, or perhaps organizing a food drive, here are the top foods needed by our food banks this year:
- Unflavored/unsweetened shelf-stable milk
- Dehydrated milk and canned evaporated milk are also appreciated.
- Proteins These are among the most costly foods – placing a significant financial burden on food banks when they must be purchased in large quantities.
- Low-sodium canned meats such as tuna, chicken or fish are high in protein and low in saturated fat.
- Peanut butter is rich in protein and high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils, the “good fats.”
- Dried beans, peas and lentils are a staple of diets as early as 6700 B.C. Beans are a low-fat source of protein and fiber.
- Fruits and Vegetables
- Low-sodium canned vegetables, including tomatoes and tomato sauce. Studies indicate that canned vegetables have about the same nutritional value as fresh vegetables.
- Canned fruits in 100% juice or lite syrup. Only a small amount of vitamin C is lost in the canning process, making these a healthy choice.
- 100% fruit and vegetable juices. Canned, plastic or boxed are all helpful.
- Dried fruits and vegetables.
- 100% Whole Grains.
- Whole wheat pasta, barley, brown rice or wild rice. Grain-based foods are a good source of fiber and complex carbohydrates.
- Cereal and rolled oats with at least 3g of fiber. Breakfast cereals can be an additional source of protein, and most cereals today include a variety of vitamins and minerals.
Additonally, Food banks across the nation, and the millions of low-income people who turn to them for help, are still reeling from the effects of what has been an unusually cold and snowy winter season.
The harsh winter, combined with the November 2013 cut of $5 billion in fiscal year 2014 to the food stamp program (now officially named the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP), is causing many hardships for families struggling with hunger. The November cuts to the food stamp program were due to the expiration of a boost in SNAP benefits through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
“The record cold this winter has forced people in our community to make a very difficult, very sobering choice – paying for food or paying for heat. For someone who is hungry, every extra dollar spent on utilities often means one less dollar to spend on food. And, at a time when 1 in 6 people in our community is hungry, that’s a reality that thousands of our neighbors must face every single day,” said Kate Maehr, executive director and CEO ofGreater Chicago Food Depository, a Feeding America member food bank.
Those struggles are common at the 61,000 food pantries, shelters and soup kitchens around the country served by a Feeding America member food bank.
“A number of our food banks have reported that the food pantries and kitchens they serve have seen a marked increase in the number of people seeking assistance this winter. Higher heating costs, lost wages, missed school days, the November 1 cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and a variety of other weather-related problems have made life very tough for many of the people who rely on us to feed themselves and their families,” said Aiken. “Spring is officially just around the corner, but the consequences of this brutal winter will continue to be felt for months to come. For families living on the margins, the bitter cold felt by much of the country triggered a cascade of increased hardship.”
According to the Energy Information Administration, the price of natural gas – used to heat over half of U.S. homes – jumped nearly 30 percent in January alone, and rising propane costs forced many households to pay$200 or more for propane compared to last year.
“We know that many people who come to us for help have extremely low household incomes. About 50 percent of households receiving SNAP benefits, for example, have incomes that are less than half the federal poverty level – less than $10,000 annually for a family of three – so any spike in heating costs can make a big dent in the amount of money they have left to purchase food,” Aiken said.
Here are some other anecdotes from around the Feeding America Network:
“After severe weather forced us to cancel several Mobile Pantry distributions, we were finally able to schedule one inside a large barn at our county fairgrounds. It was such a cold day that the temperature inside the barn was only 11 degrees, but a surprising number of people stood in a very long line for food. This indicates that there is great need here in Lafayette. We have seen a steady increase in clients since the cuts to food stamps in November. They often tell us that they cannot afford to purchase food, pay for heat and put gas in their car. We have also had reports of rural families that have been unable to afford to have their propane tanks refilled. This winter has been harsh in many ways,” said Katy O’Malley Bunder, executive director of Food Finders Food Bank in Lafayette, Indiana.
“It’s been an incredibly cold and snowy winter in Delaware,” said Food Bank of Delaware President and CEO Patricia Beebe. “In fact, January 2014 ranked as one of the coldest since our state began keeping records. Increased utility costs, coupled with missed school meals as a result of snow days and cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, have created a perfect storm here in Delaware.”
St. John’s Sack Lunch Program in Fort Smith, Arkansas was forced to close down three times in February, when icy conditions made the roads too unsafe for volunteers to drive to the facility. Volunteer Judith Stilwellsaid, “When our program skips a meal service, there are easily 100 people who had no other option for a meal, and they will be going without food. This is especially heartbreaking after they have trudged on foot through harsh weather, only to find out there was no food service.” The program distributed 3,250 sack lunches in February.
A food pantry at the Church of Christ in the small town of Maysville, Kentucky reports that the number of families showing up for food nearly doubled during some weeks in January and February.
The Northeast Iowa Food Bank said that hundreds of homes in the Waterloo area have had water pipes freeze and burst. Barb Prather, executive director of the Northeast Iowa Food Banks said, “We have distributed thousands of bottles of water to people who have been living in homes without running water for weeks and weeks. Replacing and repairing these pipes will be a huge burden for the people who come to us for help. We have also been told that as the weather improves and the ground begins to thaw, more broken water pipes, now encased in ice, will be revealed. This is a crisis that will just get worse.”
To find the Feeding America food bank in your area, go to: www.feedingamerica.org Find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/FeedingAmerica or follow them on Twitter at www.twitter.com/FeedingAmerica.