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Nick Turse: Breaking the Banks

March 9, 2009

Nick Turse

The message is simple. Ever more Americans need food they can’t afford. As tough economic times take their toll, increasing numbers of Americans are on tightened budgets and, in some cases, facing outright hunger. As a result, they may be learning a lot more about food banks and soup kitchens than most of them ever wanted to know.

In recent interviews with TomDispatch.com, representatives from food banks — the non-profit organizations that distribute groceries to those in need via food pantries, shelters, and soup kitchens — expressed alarm at the recent surge in need all across the country. At the same time, most stated that, however counterintuitive it might seem, financial contributions to their organizations are actually on the rise. So, too, are food prices, however — and donations, unfortunately, are not keeping up with demand.

Food bank representatives agree on one thing: the need for their services is spiking in a way none of them can recall. Again and again, they emphasize that lines at food pantries are growing longer, seemingly by the month, and that those in line are younger and often more middle class than ever before.

Families who just months ago didn’t even know what a food bank was and would never have considered visiting a food pantry now have far more intimate knowledge of both. Embarrassed to approach institutions that they previously identified with the poor and indigent, many, say food bank officials, are also waiting far too long to seek aid. Other formerly middle class Americans who have never dealt with, or even thought about, food insecurity before simply don’t know whom to call or where to turn.

These points echo a December 2008 survey conducted by Feeding America, a national hunger-relief charity. Its network of more than 200 food banks in all 50 states distributes more than two billion pounds of donated groceries annually to 63,000 local charitable agencies. Its survey found that, of 160 food banks, 99.4% of them reported seeing more first-time users in 2008.

For America’s food banks this has meant one thing: that they, too, are needier. They need ever more fresh food, non-perishable food, and non-food items like cleaning products and toiletries from wholesalers, retailers, food distributors, corporations, charities, government agencies, local farms, and individual donors. They need ever more storage and freezer space. They need ever more volunteers. They need ever more food that can be made available on appointed distribution days at food pantries. And they need ever more emergency food supplies, available on demand for people who suddenly realize that they are hungry and out of options, possibly for the first time in their lives…

Read more at Tomdispatch.com

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com. His work has appeared in many publications, including the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, In These Times, and regularly at TomDispatch. A paperback edition of his book, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (Metropolitan Books), an exploration of the new military-corporate complex in America, has just been published. His website is Nick Turse.com.

Copyright 2009 Nick Turse

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