The swings from high to low in the world’s stock markets have dominated media attention since the too long and tedious congressional debates and histrionics of the United States debt ceiling debates. But for those who live from paycheck to paycheck scraping together just enough money for rent, food and the necessities their voices are muted in the public debates about the options the country should take to stabilize the economy. Then there are the poorest of the poor, whose voices are not merely muted but silenced. Those are the 40 plus million Americans who live in poverty according to Feeding America statistics. For 1 in 6 Americans living in hunger is their daily existence. For some 8.8 million families poverty is real.
According to United States Department of Agriculture more than 17 million American children live in food insecure households. The definition of food insecurity is when people lack sustainable physical or economic access to enough safe, nutritious, and socially acceptable food for a healthy and productive life. It is worth noting that five states – all southern- exhibited statistically significant higher household food insecurity rates than the national average from 2007 to 2009. Arkansas 17.7%, Mississippi 17.1%, Texas 17.4% North Carolina 14.8% and our own state Georgia at 15.6%.
Georgia Food Bank Association provides 78 million pounds of food annually through 2,500 network member agencies in 159 counties. This is a 30 to 40% increase in 2010 from 2009. With continuing higher than national average unemployment rates in Georgia, we need an economic recovery plan that does more than save high income or even middle-class families.
We need a model that reaches down to lift out of hunger Georgians (1 in 8) and Americans (1 in 6). There are successful models in Atlanta and around the state that are actively addressing the issue of poverty. There are numerous programs that have been engaged in this work for years but I want to mention just a few, like the Atlanta Food Bank that provides over two million pounds of food and grocery items each month to more than 700 non-profit partner agencies in metro Atlanta and north Georgia, Community Concerns, Inc., City of Refuge, Hosea Williams Feed the hungry and Homeless, and Shirley Sherrod’s Southwest Georgia Project in Albany, which has been addressing the issues of unfair policies effecting families, welfare rights and poverty. Leaders like Bill Bolling, Elizabeth Omilami, Jim Milner and Pastor Bruce whose decades of work offer the examples we need to become socially responsible states rather than one of the five states with the hungriest population in the country.
As we plan for the future let’s put eliminating hunger at the top of the list for community building and community pride. Food and water for the body and education for the mind and soul—those are the ingredients that will stand the test of time.