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U.S. hunger reaches record levels

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By , November 19th, 2009 12:11pm

A new USDA report says that 30% more people experienced food insecurity in 2008 than the year before, bringing hunger in America to its worst levels since 1995, when the monitoring began.  This record-level of hunger has no doubt worsened since this study does not account for the mass layoffs that occurred this year.

Across the state of Kansas, food pantries, churches, schools and soup kitchens are seeing increased demand from people affected from the economy through layoffs, furloughs and work slow-downs. The demand has been felt at the Kansas Food Bank where we’ve increased deliveries from 5.5 million pounds in 2007 to the 7.5 million we expect to deliver by year’s end. This represents an increase of 36 percent in the amount of food shipped to our 500-plus hunger-relief partners in Kansas. Individual agencies are reporting a 20 to 30 percent increase in demand for help.

For example, the St. Joseph’s Food Pantry in Hays was serving 386 people per month, but by September that number had grown to 524. The Salvation Army in Salina went from 488 in January to 680 in September. The Food Pantry of Geary County in Junction City went from 566 in January to 942 in September.

Rural areas seem to be suffering the same as urban areas we have increased our distribution and added to our agency base in rural area to meet the growing demands. We are receiving call almost daily from area of our state that in the past have not needed our services.

Unemployment in Kansas hit a low of in January 2008 at 3.9 percent. But since then mass layoffs in Wichita’s aircraft industry – fueled by a national economic meltdown in the stock and housing markets – drove Wichita unemployment to peak at 10 percent in July 2009. Wichita’s low hit 3.5% in July 2008, which means in just 15 months the number of out-of-work Wichitans nearly tripled.  Current unemployment in Wichita is 8.6; statewide the rate is 6.9

In July of this year, the Kansas Food Bank started providing food boxes to recently laid-off workers from the Wichita metro area. We are distributing about 500 food boxes per month through the United Way of the Plain’s Laid-Off Workers Center.

Our Food 4 Kids program is currently servicing 5,000 kids every Friday. This program provides a large zip bag of food for children to take home and eat over the weekend. The food goes to children showing physical and behavioral signs of not getting enough to eat outside of school meal programs. We project this program will be serving 6000 students by the end of the school year. 

We are also making plans to provide food assistance through high schools in the Wichita area that have come to us stating they are see an increased number of hungry students who do not have the means to visit and already established food pantry. This is a new solution to a growing problem in our communities in which we serve.

We do not know the exact number of the food insecure people in Kansas today. The USDA study found the average rate of food insecurity between 2006-2008 to be 13.8 percent. The national average for that period was 12.2. Nationally the rate was at 14.6 percent at the end of 2008 — a figure that indicates 1 in 7 Americans are unsure where their next meal might be coming from. 

We do know that the most recent census data (2008) said that Kansas had 300,000 living in poverty, with 1 in 3 of those being children. We can presume those numbers are now significantly higher because of the dramatic increase in unemployment this past year.