While many of us associate the holidays with an abundance — or overabundance — of turkey, potatoes and pumpkin pie, plenty of Americans are struggling to put enough food on the table. One in five residents of Clark County accessed an emergency food network in the past year, according to The Columbian.
That is not unusual. Data show that those numbers are in line with national statistics, and it is disturbing to acknowledge that so many people are hungry in one of the world’s wealthiest nations.
The temptation is to place some of the blame on the COVID-19 pandemic, which upended the economy and led to the loss of millions of jobs — at least temporarily. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that food insecurity throughout the nation in 2020 was at the same level as 2019, prior to the pandemic.
A bolstering of the social safety net helped prevent broader food insecurity throughout the early days of the pandemic. Congress acted quickly to enhance unemployment benefits, provide assistance so struggling companies could pay workers and strengthen other security measures.
This year, President Joe Biden has signed legislation that provides advance Child Tax Credit payments and Pandemic EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfers) assistance that help families feed their children. Analysts say the Child Tax Credit payments, which began in July, have helped reduce household food insecurity by one-third. During the first two months of the payments, they also lifted 3.5 million children out of poverty, according to a study at Columbia University.
All of which contributes to an important discussion about policy. While many Americans might believe that governmental assistance leads to dependence, military families often rank among those struggling to put food on the table. As the Associated Press reported this month, “As many as 160,000 active-duty military members are having trouble feeding their families.”
AP was quoting statistics from Feeding America, an organization that assists food banks, and a Feeding America executive said: “It’s a shocking truth that’s known to many food banks across the United States. This should be the cause of deep embarrassment.”
Military personnel volunteer to defend our nation, have secure jobs and receive health care and other benefits. If they suffer from food insecurity, it demonstrates a broader issue that impacts millions of Americans.
And it should, indeed, be a cause for embarrassment. As Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. and a veteran herself, said: “How can you focus on carrying out the mission and defending our democracy if you’re worried about whether or not your kid gets dinner tonight?”
Locally, the Clark County Food Bank runs a robust organization that annually distributes 8 million pounds of food to nonprofits in the area. And the annual Walk & Knock event is regarded as the largest single-day food drive in the nation. This year’s Walk & Knock, which takes place Saturday, will accept donations of nonperishable food and toiletries at various locations throughout the county rather than the traditional door-to-door collections.
Clark County is fortunate to have generous residents and organizations that work to ensure our neighbors have enough to eat. That generosity extends throughout the year, although it typically receives additional attention during the holidays.
But until systemic changes take place in the U.S., the need for such largesse will continue to be a cause for embarrassment.