A new national report, Hunger In America 2010, reveals an alarming increase in need for emergency food assistance. In the Kansas City area, the most important resource for that assistance is Harvesters Community Food Network.
|Harvesters Super Bowl Week Of Caring|
The Hunger in America survey quantifies the severity of increasing need with some compelling statistics. Covering 26 counties across northwestern Missouri and northeastern Kansas, the new study reveals that a staggering 295,200 different people have received emergency food assistance each year through agencies served by Harvesters. “As a result of the most severe economic recession since the Great Depression and the highest unemployment rates since World War II, more people than ever are seeking emergency food assistance,” said Karen Haren, Harvesters’ president and CEO. “In 2009, we distributed 36.6 million pounds of food, which is 30 percent more than at any time in our 30-year history.”
Links to the report’s key findings, as well as the full report in both local and national versions can be found at the Harvesters Hunger In America 2010 web page.
- 37 percent of all members of households served in 2009 are children (up to 109,224 children overall).
- 45 percent of these children come from single-parent households.
- 39 percent of households have at least one adult who is working. Yet nearly three quarters (73 percent) have incomes at or below poverty level.
- 74 percent of food pantries and 82 percent of kitchens report an increase in need at their facilities since 2005.
- 25 percent of households have at least one member in poor health, thirty-one percent have no health insurance, and fifty-three percent have unpaid medical bills.
- 78 percent of households with children are considered “food insecure” and 34 percent are classified as having “very low food security.” In other words, there are a lot of children out there who would go hungry without the benefit of the Harvesters Network.
- Seniors are also at risk of going hungry, with 76 percent of recipient households with seniors classified as “food insecure”.
Many families receiving emergency food aid are working families who cannot make ends meet, even to the point of having to make highly stressful decisions about the basic necessities of life. The study found that among those receiving food assistance, 48 percent have been forced to choose between paying for food, or for utilities for light or heat. 42 percent have faced decisions on paying for food vs. rent or mortgage payments, and 30 percent between food and medical care or medicine. In spite of every effort to provide for their households, these family incomes are often insufficient to meet even basic needs.
One way to relate graphically to the economic hardships faced by many low income working families is to go to the Harvesters Family Budget Calculator and run a few examples for yourself. You can calculate a household budget for number of children, basic expenses, number of working members, and specific jobs, to see just how easily a family can find themselves faced with an inability to provide basic needs.
“Hunger in America 2010 not only corroborates what other studies have been saying about the increasing need, it also tells us about who is seeking emergency food assistance in our community,” Haren said. “It shows us the face of hunger."
- Donations of food These come from a diverse set of resources which include everyone from individuals to organized food drives to major corporations.
- Donations of money Cash contributions come from individual, group, and corporate contributions as well as proceeds from various events hosted by or benefiting Harvesters. Every dollar translates into five meals served, an amazingly productive use of funds.
- Donations of Time Volunteer work for Harvesters ranges from individuals working to sort food and household goods, to professionals donating services, to community outreach and team-building efforts.
|More Super Bowl Volunteers At Work|
Ellen Feldhausen, Harvesters’ Director of Communications, tells us that the work done by volunteers represents the equivalent work of 52 full time paid employees. This represents more than half the paid staff workforce of Harvesters.
|It's A Family Affair!|
It’s not just the volume of donated goods, but also the nature of the goods which requires the prompt attention of a volunteer intensive workforce. There is a huge ever-changing diversity in both the quantities and variety of non-perishables received by the agency for distribution. While the common impression of Harvesters may be as a distributor of canned and non-perishable foods, the fact is that they also distribute fresh produce. Harvesters also collects and distributes personal hygiene products and cleaning supplies.
For example, a fascinating group called Society of Saint Andrew has been working for 30 years to save agricultural produce that would otherwise go to waste. The organization collects produce which would otherwise be lost and funnels it into food relief agencies. They do this in large part by gleaning fields after harvest, where there is usually some useful food remaining after farmers have collected their yields. They also gather foods which may not be considered suitable for market, but which are still fresh and nutritious. Since much of their work is done in fields and rural areas, they compliment the work done by Harvesters by working in areas beyond the scope of local recruiting and collection.
In 2008, they opened a regional headquarters, Society Of St. Andrew West, which is housed in the Harvesters facility. According to the SOSA-West website, they made over 5 million pounds of produce available to Harvesters in their first year of regional operations.
Another fun, popular, and environmentally positive source of produce for Harvesters is their “Plant A Row” program, developed by the Garden Writers Association of America. Gardeners are encouraged to plant an extra row in their gardens for Harvesters, and a number of local garden centers and nurseries serve as collection points for the donations. Click here for more information and a list of participating businesses.
Fast and efficient processing is necessary to keep up with the pressing demand, and to insure that the perishable donations are distributed in a timely manner. Volunteer work is the major force behind Harvesters’ ability to manage and distribute this vast variety of donated food items, and effectively match these donations to the needs of the dozens of regional food pantries served by the organization. Without volunteers, the high cost of labor and professional work would severely impair the agency’s efforts.
Perhaps as you read this you're thinking you might like to volunteer one of these days. Well, there's no time like the present to jump in and help. Maybe you have some particular expertise which might be helpful, and if so, don't hesitate to get in touch with them and let them know what you have to offer. The range of volunteer needs offers something for everyone. Why not take a look at the opportunities right now? Here's a link to the Harvesters web page, "Many Ways To Volunteer."
This article would not be complete without mentioning Harvesters’ current programs to encourage both donations and service. We're challenging readers of this blog to pick at least one of them and get involved. Here’s a quick rundown of some of them with links to each specific promotion:
We hope you'll agree that Harvesters provides one of the most important community services in the region, especially during these difficult financial times. We'll post Harvesters event updates from time to time, so keep watching this blog. And just follow the links we've provided above you have food, time, or a cash donation you'd like to contribute. Even a spare afternoon or a couple of hours can become a productive and fulfilling contribution to this very important effort.