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Second Harvest

It is estimated that hunger strikes 30 million Americans each year. From the ever-present needs of those living in poverty to the unexpected needs of the victims of a natural disaster, there are millions of men, women and children who do not know where they will find their next meal.

A recent study by Second Harvest, a national food bank network, helps put a face on hunger in America. The study paints a picture of who is hungry, why they need assistance and the social consequences of hunger.

Second Harvest gathered data from 186 participating food banks representing more than 50,000 agencies. The results shake up some stereotypes and illustrate that many of us may be only a few paychecks away from financial disaster.

A Snapshot of Those in Need

  • Nearly half of the individuals seeking aid are white. Thirty-two percent are black, 15 percent are Hispanic and 3 percent are Native Americans.

  • Children represent 27 percent of the U.S. population, but 38 percent of the hungry in America. More than one-half of families with children seeking emergency assistance are single-parent households.

  • The heaviest concentration of hunger is not in the heart of big cities. U.S. Census Bureau statistics illustrate that 90 percent of low-income families live outside urban ghettos.

  • Only five percent of all emergency clients have attended or received a college degree. Thirty-six percent have a high school degree or equivalent. Forty percent have not completed high school.

  • More than one-third of all emergency client households have at least one member who is working. Of those households, 49 percent contain someone working full-time and 48 percent include someone working part-time or doing seasonal work. Twelve percent include someone who is retired and 35 percent include someone unemployed.

  • Eighty-six percent of households earn less than $15,500 annually.

    How did 30 million individuals find themselves without money for food? For millions of American families, low-wage jobs and inadequate government assistance are not enough to provide a family's basic nutritional needs. However, the study indicates that most families receiving assistance are in a temporary crisis. Sudden unemployment can quickly disrupt a family's financial stability and leave the cupboard bare.

    Food banks provide temporary assistance to help families through a crisis. Most clients in the study did not become long-term dependents. Forty-four percent had received food and grocery products for less than six months and 18 percent had received assistance for less than a month.

    The Consequences

    Many individuals seeking assistance are in poor health, and faltering nutrition only exascerbates existing health problems. Twenty-eight percent of emergency clients have had to choose between seeking medical attention, filling prescriptions and buying food.

    The most dramatic consequences can be seen in children. Medical evidence shows that even short periods of undernutrition can affect a child's behavior, cognitive development and future productivity. "Children make up about one-third of our population, but they make up 100 percent of our future as a nation," says Dr.Joseph Zanga, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "What opportunities have we lost because a child was not nourished properly? A scientist who discovers a cure for cancer? A politician or statesman who brings lasting peace to the world?"

    About Second Harvest

    Since 1979, Second Harvest has provided nearly a billion pounds of food each year to individuals and families in need. The organization solicits donations from food growers, manufacturers, distributors, processors and retailers and distributes the food to more than 180 food banks that work with more than 50,000 agencies to serve 26 million individuals, including the elderly, the disabled, abused children, the newly employed, the working poor, single parent families, the mentally ill, the homeless and battered women. The donations are frequently surplus that might otherwise go to waste. When a line of cereal fails, green beans are cut too short or a tanker of laundry detergent is the wrong color, Second Harvest works with industry partners like Procter & Gamble, Burger King, Nabisco and Kraft to distribute these surplus inventories to families in need.

    How Can I Help?

    Whether you are an individual or represent an organization or corporation, there are many things you can do to take an active role in hunger relief efforts.

    One great way to help is by providing food. Contribute to local food drives or organize your own through a business, church group or civic organization. Volunteering is perhaps the most rewarding way to contribute. There are opportunities to help at every level of the network. Volunteers serve and sort food, provide administrative help and offer professional guidance. To connect with a food bank in your area, search the Food Bank Locator on the Second Harvest site.

    Those who are able can also make financial contributions. Every dollar Second Harvest spends means $68 worth of food and grocery products for hungry families. If you are interested in making a donation, visit the Second Harvest site or call 1-800-771-2303, extension 148.

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