HUNGER: A DEFINITION OF THE PROBLEM

 

Hunger Word Mix

How do we define hunger?

Hunger has been defined as "an uneasy or painful sensation caused by a recurrent or involuntary lack of food" (Anderson, 1990). It is the biological manifestation of food insecurity, which is the lack of access to enough food for an active and healthy lifestyle.(1)

How many people are hungry in the U.S.? In Philadelphia?

Hunger and food insecurity are difficult to measure. Many suffer from hunger silently. Many others suffer from hunger sporadically as their wallets expand or shrink over the course of a month. Food insecurity numbers have been free-falling due to the economic downturn and according to current documented sources:

  • 1 in 6 persons in the US, 49 million people, are food insecure.(2)
  • More than 1 in 4 persons in Philadelphia: double the national and state levels, over 440,000 people, 150,000 of whom are children.

Who is hungry?

Anyone can fall upon hard times, and, too often, hard times mean hunger. In these times of unprecedented economic hardship, layoffs, under-employment, and unexpected circumstances are increasing the ranks of those needing food support. Recent research identifies the role of specific events that stress household budgets, such as job loss, increase in household size, and loss of food stamps, and their effect on the dynamic nature of hunger.(3) The three largest growing groups(4) of food challenged people are:

  • Working families with children
  • Seniors
  • Immigrants

What are the causes of hunger?

Hunger exists when food is:

  • Unaffordable
  • Unavailable
  • Inaccessible

In America, food is overwhelmingly available and accessible. However, for many people food has become increasingly unaffordable. In 2010, according to the American Farm Bureau, food costs were up 10% from the same period the previous year. Some staple items such as bread, eggs and dairy products doubled in price during that same time period. In poorer neighborhoods, nutritious food is often unaffordable and inaccessible due to lack of supermarkets and fresh produce selling businesses.

How do hungry people get help?

Federal/State Food Programs
The first line of defense against hunger is the use of SNAP (food stamps). Currently, about 440,000 Philadelphians are beneficiaries of this program. However, another 180,000 are estimated to be eligible but are not participants. The average food stamp benefit for a resident of Philadelphia is $200 per month.

Other federally funded hunger defense programs include:

  • The National School Lunch Program
  • The School Breakfast Program
  • The Summer Food Service Program for Children
  • The Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants & Children (WIC)
  • The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which provides USDA commodities to states, which distribute the food through local emergency food providers

The State of Pennsylvania provides some hunger defense through its State Food Purchase Program. Philadelphia receives $4 million of the $18 million distributed to local emergency food providers.

Food Cupboards and Soup Kitchens
The second level of defense for hungry people is the use of charitable community food cupboards and soup kitchens. Over 500,000 Philadelphians (and nearly 1 million persons in the Greater Delaware Valley) are currently using this secondary level support.(5) Most charitable cupboards are housed in church basements, and managed by elderly volunteers who have difficulty providing the level of service that they recognize as being needed in their communities. Many of the most economically depressed neighborhoods in the city are under served without adequate food cupboard or kitchen access.

Food Cupboards and Soup Kitchens provide their clients food free of charge, and therefore rely on donated food. The charitable food system gets donated food from many sources including industry, individuals (food drives) and from what Federal and State programs provide.

Donations are never adequate to cover full need and, recently, donations have fallen significantly. The resulting shortage affects the very nature of food distribution itself. Cupboards and Pantries ration what food is available directly and indirectly. They ration directly by limiting the amount of food they will distribute to any one client, and by limiting the number of times per month that client can receive assistance. They ration indirectly by limiting their hours of operation to a few hours per week, restricting those they will serve to a small geographic region, or by not announcing or advertising their existence beyond word of mouth.(6)

This food cupboard system is a volunteer, under-resourced and highly used distribution network… A network never intended or designed to supply food at current levels.

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footnotes:
(1) USDA 2007, food insecurity is "being uncertain of having, or unable to acquire enough food for all household members because of insufficient money and other resources for food."
(2) USDA. Household Food Security in the US, 2009.
(3) Rose, Donald, Economic Determinants and Dietary Consequences of Food Insecurity in the US. Department of Agricultural Economics, Michigan State University, 1999.
(4) Conference of US Mayors Report, Hunger and Homelessness. December 2010.
(5)Food Cupboard usage includes SHARE, Philabundace, Salvation Army, and Independent Food Cupbaord numbers.
(6) Bill Clark, Executive Director of Philabundance, Report on Hunger, 2008

 

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