Hunger in Maine, New England and across the nation is at epidemic proportions, government programs are inadequate to keep people from starvation and already struggling food pantries are being weakened by increasing demand.
According to the Good Shepherd Food Bank, "More than 40% of Maine kids under the age of 12 show some evidence of hunger". 40% is a very large minority.
To make that a little more tangible - it means that 4 out of 10 Maine children will go to bed hungry some time this week. They went to bed hungry some time last week and they'll go to bed hungry again some time next week. Another way to think of it is walk into any Maine 5th grade classroom and count heads. Out of, say, 30 kids, about a dozen will will go to bed hungry some time this week, as they did last week and as they'll do again next week.
Every 5 seconds, somewhere in the world, a child dies from starvation. Must we wait until it escalates to that level in our own back yards before we recognize the crisis we have in America?
When we know that half the kids in a far-off land are going hungry, we air drop food on them like ticker tape at Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade - and rightly so. Why, then, is 40% right in our own backyard somehow acceptable? Is it a great leap to go from "40%" to "half"? Or to go from "show some evidence of hunger" to outright starvation? You can bet that the kids kept awake by gnawing tummies don't think it's a great leap - and they certainly don't find it acceptable. To them it's a crisis they don't understand and are helpless to fix.
Food stamps and other government food distribution programs help, but are no panacea. Recent studies confirm what Food Pantry operators already know - Food Pantrys no longer function simply as a short-term bridge but have themselves become long-term supplemental programs. One recent distribution of "government food" to a rural pantry in New England amounted to about 1/60th of the food that particular pantry will require until the next donation of government food. Food cupboards are left to figure out where they'll get the rest of the food required to prevent "show some evidence of hunger" from becoming starvation.
An April, 2009 study out of The University of North Carolina characterized the current state of Food Pantries as "fragile" at a time when the need for them is greater than ever. Agencies that serve and sustain our most vulnerable populations are themselves hanging on by a thread. The people are not well served by this situation.
As a society we must begin to support our food pantry system on a level at par with the services demanded from it. We can't continue to wait until the TV news cameras are panning down empty shelf after empty shelf at the local food cupboard while some nice elderly lady frets about how they're going to feed their people next week. Back when the pantrys were functioning as temporary food assistance programs it might have been acceptable if one closed down and another eventually opened. No more. Now that food pantries are becoming full-blown Social Service Agencies, the time has come to treat them as such. Government isn't going to foot the bill. Even if it does, it'll raise taxes to do it, impose demands, regulations and create inefficiencies that break the back of the pantry system.
40% of Maine kids agree - the time to act is now.
How about we let the minority rule on this one?