Recession means hunger at holidays for many

By Carey Gillam

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - A sign outside the Shawnee Community Center states a clear goal: “A World Without Hunger.” But inside, that goal is getting harder to reach.

Senior citizens, young parents and middle-aged working poor were among those lining up at the suburban center this week, quietly collecting handouts of pasta, canned vegetables, peanut butter and other staples to stave off hunger.

“We are seeing more people this Christmas than last Christmas for sure,” said Shawnee Community Center volunteer Verta Morris. “A lot of people are hungry.”

Long lines are common sights these days at food pantries across recession-hit America.

U.S. food banks have reported a 30 percent rise in requests for emergency food assistance, according to a report issued last week by Feeding America, which supports 63,000 agencies and is the nation’s largest hunger relief organization.

The group said the situation is expected to grow worse in 2009 amid rising unemployment, and a consortium of charity groups are calling on Washington for more federal assistance. U.S. employers cut 533,000 jobs in November alone, the highest monthly number in 34 years.

“We’re in a crisis. Absolutely,” said Feeding America spokeswoman Maura Daly.


Food assistance groups said many families who show up at their doors were recently making it on their own. But two years of rising food and energy costs ate into what little safety net those families had. Now, as jobs losses rise, many who were making ends meet can no longer do so.

“People have just been stretched to the breaking point. They have to turn to someone for help,” said Karen Siebert, spokeswoman for Harvesters Community Food Network in Kansas City, which provides food for 420 food pantries in a 13-county area and has seen demand jumped 50 percent this year.

Debbie and Victor Turner, both 48, were among many waiting their turn on Monday in Shawnee for food supplies, which this week included a frozen turkey as a holiday treat.

Victor once worked in construction but he and his wife now clean houses for $65 to $100 a house. They collect and sell scrap metal to cover their rent and care for three grandchildren.

“Without this, we could be near starvation,” Debbie said.

In big cities and small towns, the story is the same.

At St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix, about 180,000 meals a day are being distributed ahead of the Christmas holiday.  Continued…


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