Beyond Thanksgiving dinner

Published 7:05 pm Thursday, November 26, 2009

If you are the lucky family member who is tasked with Thanksgiving dinner grocery shopping, you may have noticed a slightly higher grocery bill this week than years before. While you may have growing teenagers who are consuming more and more food, an ever-expanding list of “must-have” dishes, or the addition of the in-laws this year, the reality of the price increase is probably related to something even further out of your control.

During the last year, U.S. grocery prices have increased 5.1 percent overall. Milk increased 17 percent. Cheese increased 15 percent. Rice and pasta increased 13 percent. Bread increased 12 percent. And healthy foods (lean meats and vegetables) increased 20 percent.

Grocery prices are not just having an impact on the total price of Thanksgiving dinner. They’re also having a daily impact on millions of Americans. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, half a million households in America are “food insecure,” which means that they lack basic food intake to provide them with enough energy and nutrients for a productive life. In the face of a recession, food insecurity in the U.S. is higher than any time since the government began tracking it 14 years ago.

In an era of big government, there is one school of thought that says the federal government should be primarily responsible for addressing hunger in a wealthy nation.

But often times the people who are making the biggest difference in addressing hunger in America are not bureaucrats overseeing programs in Washington but individuals right in our own communities – the young mom who organizes a community food drive, the church leaders who open a food pantry or the couple that volunteers weekends at the local food bank.

Community food banks have become a primary and reliable source of nourishment for many American families.

Yet, with unemployment at 10.2 percent, food banks across the nation are finding it hard to keep up. Food banks are seeing a significant rise in new visitors, some with as much as a 36-percent increase in new families. In some cases, families are even being turned away from food banks because of short supply.

Food banks also are seeing a new demographic of visitors — families from different neighborhoods and demographic backgrounds are relying on food banks to provide them with their basic grocery needs, proving that hunger is not confined to urban or extreme rural areas; the need for food banks spans across many areas of American life.

While food banks may not be a solution to hunger, they help provide necessary fuel to get many Americans through the day. We certainly have room to improve at the federal level, like addressing regulations to make it easier for schools to donate unused food to local banks, and educating small businesses on the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act, which protects donors who donate in good faith from liability. We also have an opportunity to help at an individual level.

This year we have an opportunity to encourage families by sharing with our local food banks. Food banks are in great need of food that will help families maintain a healthy diet and provide sustenance, especially heading into the winter months.

When we remember our neighbors, move beyond the inconvenience of disrupting our busy schedules and into a character of giving voluntarily, the impact reaches far beyond a meal – it helps bring hope and encouragement to individuals and communities that will last for years to come.