Hunger in our midst

Hunger in our midst

November 14th, 2012 in Opinion Times

Thousands, maybe even tens of thousands, of residents here and in surrounding counties are hungry every day. That's a dreadful statistic in a nation that produces bountiful harvests, where supermarkets overflow with a wide variety of foodstuffs and there is a splendid history of programs to help those in need of assistance.

Sadly, the Chattanooga area is not the only locale where many go hungry. The most recent public and private studies on hunger in the United States agree that more than 15 percent of the nation's populace faced hunger at some point within the last year or worried that their food supply would run out. In this region, the number is about 20 percent. Equally appalling is the fact that more than 17 million of the nation's youngsters do not always have enough to eat. The latter number might be higher if it were not for subsidized breakfast and lunch programs at schools.

The nationwide figures are consistent with those in this region.

Officials with agencies and groups here that provide food to those in need say that all ethnic groups are represented and that single mothers and their children, a growing number of two-parent families and members of the working poor are heavily represented on their client lists. So are the disabled, the ill, the homeless and the elderly .

Those who go hungry are often victims of a variety of factors that include changing and chaotic economic conditions, the growing gap between working-class wages and the cost of every-day sustenance, problems related to addiction, mental illness and a lack of education and job-related skills. Given the complexity of such problems, addressing the hunger issue demands a set of skills, knowledge and services that are hard to find at a single site. Thankfully, there are agencies and groups here that are up to the challenge.

The Chattanooga Area Food Bank, for example, serves nearly 400 agencies in Chattanooga, Hamilton County and 19 other counties in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. It dispenses about 733,000 pounds of food and provisions a month. Last year, the Food Bank, located just off Amnicola Highway on Curtain Pole Road, distributed about 8.8 million pounds of food, a total that is expected to rise this fiscal year.

While most of that total goes in bulk to agencies, the agency also provides food boxes to individuals with vouchers from referring organizations. More than 20,000 of the boxes have been distributed so far this year.

The Community Kitchen on East 11th Street also does admirable often unsung work in the fight to ease hunger. It expects to provide 185,000-190,000 meals to individuals this year. Its clients mirror the same economic, physical and social problems to those assisted by the Food Bank.

Both the Food Bank and the Community Kitchen are vital in the continuing effort to meet the needs of the hungry with the help of motivated individuals, hordes of volunteers and generous benefactors. The need for such assistance never ends. The Chattanooga community, to its ever-lasting credit, meets that requirement.

Generous monetary gifts and contributions of time and foodstuffs are part of the strong foundations on which the Food Bank and Community Kitchen are built. Food drives provide tons of food a year. Contributions from restaurants, food service departments and businesses like McKee Foods, Pepsi and Peyton's help, too. For the Food Bank, membership in a national sharing program supported by major manufacturers like Tropicana and Frito-Lay is a boon.

The shelves of both local groups often are better stocked now than at other times of the year, but that should not obscure the need for year-round support. Holiday food drives can provide short-term largesse, but sometimes lead to shortfalls that make it difficult for agencies to meet demand at other times of the year. It's up to businesses and individuals in the region to make sure that seasonal peaks and valleys in contributions do not leave the groups in such straitened condition.

The Food Bank and the Community Kitchen deliver services that government and other individuals, groups and agencies are unable or unwilling to provide. Their valuable programs help maintain society on a somewhat even keel, but both have little continuing support other than the continuing generosity of area individuals and businesses.

That should be uppermost in the minds of the more fortunate among us as we prepare for the ritual food-based celebrations that are synonymous with Thanksgiving and the end-of-year holidays.