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Who are the hungry: Putting a face to the malnourished

August 17th, 2009 at 1:51 pm

PLANO – Millions of the nation’s most vulnerable lay in bed each night struggling to win a seemingly hopeless battle. The sound of their empty stomachs continually echoes, suffocating their faith.

But believers nationwide are showing that the grumbling sound of the tragic social issue cannot overcome the power of Christians calling out to the hungry and giving hope to the malnourished and wounded.

Hunger is waiting to be abolished, they say.

Roughly 36.2 million Americans are food insecure. They are neighbors, friends and family. But in the midst of life’s chaos, the hungry are camouflaged into society causing most people to be unaware of their struggles.

So who are they? And why are they hungry?

There is no single answer.

“Hunger has no face and no personality,” said Cheryl Jackson, founder of The Giving Movement, a Plano nonprofit organization. “It has no respect for one type of person. It is the working poor and the people devastated by an unexpected loss.”

Food insecurity is defined as the uncertainty of being able to acquire enough food for a healthy lifestyle. According to the Texas Food Bank Network, 1.3 million Texans are food insecure. The state is also highest in child food insecurity.

It is a common misconception that the hungry are the continually non-working, but Texas Hunger Initiative Director Jeremy Everett said this is rarely the case.

“The overwhelming majority of SNAP [food stamps] eligible families are employed. They just need supplemental help to keep food on the table for their families,” he said. “I’ve heard of people pulling up in Escalades to food pantries because the month before, they were the executive of a company. With our economic situation, a lot of families’ most basic needs are not being met.”

State commissioner for the Texas Department of Agriculture, Todd Staples, said the current situation is inexcusable.

“Texas is a leader in many things; children who are food insecure should not be one of them,” he said. “Our future work force is being formed today, and our children are being educated today. We must break this cycle.”

Hunger is linked to many circumstances. Among the greatest is poverty. Susan Edwards, director of the Baptist CRISIS Center in Midland, said some families would rather keep utilities running than be fed.

“When all else fails, you have to get to work, put gas in the car, pay your bills and insurance and wear appropriate clothes to work. So, food becomes an expendable item,” she said.

This leaves many parents unable to provide for their young, leaving children to search for their own source of sustenance.

“Where kids go hungry is when they don’t have access to food,” said Jeremy Everett, director of the Texas Hunger Initiative, a partnership effort of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission and the Baylor University School of Social Work. “Like when they go home at night, on the weekends or during the summers.”

To provide food access, the U.S. government established the National School Lunch program — a federally assisted program providing low-cost or free meals to more than 3 million children across Texas. This ends when school lets out.

Texas developed its own extension of the federal feeding program called Seamless Summer Option to help schools continue to provide meals for low-income children throughout summer months.

The Texas Department of Agriculture also developed the Summer Food Service Program, which partners with non-profit organizations to provide summer feeding locations across the state. Texas has set up 3,200 feeding sites where any child 18 years and younger is eligible for free meals.

“We have made these programs a priority because the future of our state is dependent upon our youngest generation,” Staples said.

But Everett said there are still many barriers.

“We have 3 million kids who are on free and reduced lunch programs during the academic year, but only 78,000 children participate in summer feeding programs,” Everett said. “So, where do the others eat during summer months? Our biggest obstacle is connecting these dots.”

Faith-based organizations, food banks, the government and other non-profit organizations are seeking to discover who the hungry are, and how to effectively feed them. So hunger becomes an issue for everyone, hunger experts said. If ignored, it will create turmoil for the future. Hunger causes many long and short-term problems. From health and physical concerns to emotional issues, malnutrition causes stress to the mind and body.

“If every church in Texas would look, they would realize that in their city there is an area where there are children who are not eating because they don’t have food,” said Don Lane, pastor of CityChurch in Amarillo. “People need to realize that there is a tremendous harvest to be had in their own cities. They don’t need to travel far to be involved.”


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