We can help the hungry in our midst

In his inaugural address, John F. Kennedy told the nation that “if free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” While those words ought to hold constant relevance for a democratic state, as our nation becomes embroiled in an economic crisis it becomes particularly important that we reflect on them.

On a fundamental level, all individuals deserve access to necessities such as food, water, and shelter. The current downturn seriously threatens Charlotte's capacity to ensure that for its citizens.

Inflation, hard times drive need

A combination of forces has made hunger a large and growing problem within our city. If citizens unite and mobilize, however, the Queen City has the resources to address it. In times of economic turbulence, it can be harder to allocate money for charitable contributions. It is precisely during those times, though, that contributions are needed most.

A perfect storm has dramatically exacerbated the gap between those our community can feed and those still in need of food. Increasing unemployment has meant more individuals need help. Food price inflation and fewer donations mean that local food banks and other nonprofit organizations have less food to distribute.

Crisis Assistance Ministry reported a 40 percent increase in the number of individuals lined up outside their doors for food from March to August of 2008, compared to the same period in 2007. Loaves and Fishes, a Charlotte-based nonprofit emergency food pantry program, has seen similar increases in the number of families turning to it for help.

Lucy Mitchell, Loaves and Fishes' Director of Development and Public Relations, describes the crisis in urgent terms. She points out that the cost of the basic food package that Loaves and Fishes provides has risen from $58.60 in 2007 to $65.29. Inflation directly affects the number of individuals who organizations can afford to help, and in turn, the number left without assistance.

Some governmental safety nets exist, but public action alone isn't enough. Federal Nutrition Programs fend off most starvation within the United States, yet U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics note that 36 million Americans live in households considered to be food insecure. Our community cannot address problems such as education reform or crime without addressing food insecurity as an underlying issue. The mental and physical changes that accompany inadequate food intakes hurt learning, development, productivity, physical and psychological health, and family life.

CROP Walk aims to help

Despite the challenges, a mobilized Queen City has the capacity to tackle hunger. On October 12th, thousands of Charlotteans will unite as part of the 30th Charlotte CROP Hunger Walk, to raise awareness and money for hunger relief around the block and around the world. Among the organizations who receive CROP Walk funds, like Second Harvest Food Bank, Loaves and Fishes, and Crisis Assistance Ministry, there is an overwhelming hope that the Walk will continue to raise enough money to help feed the city's hungry. But they know, given the economic downturn, there's no guarantee.

Within a city and nation of so much affluence, it is remarkable that more has not been done. Many of us view hunger as a third-world issue (with mental images of children with distended bellies); we therefore relegate hunger as being too far off or insurmountably large to address.

Rising prices affect all of us, not only the poor. As all of us find it harder to make ends meet, we may find it harder to donate to organizations we know are worthy. However, in pursuit of an ethical life, we cannot allow our neighbors to go without basic needs.