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The price of hunger

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The Price of Hunger

By Garland McLaurin

JAMES P. MCGOVERN, CONGRESSMAN (D-MA): Hunger is a political condition. That is absolutely the best way to characterize it. We have the resources, we have the infrastructure, we have everything to end hunger except the political will.

VOICEOVER: Hunger is growing in America, and food banks are scrambling to keep up with the need. Higher oil prices mean higher food prices, and the stagnant economy means more unemployment. It’s estimated that a record 28 million Americans will be using food stamps in 2009. Millions more depend on community food banks like Bread for the City in Washington, DC, to provide free food from time to time.

JEANETTE CHANCE, NORTHWEST FOOD COORDINATOR: You know, we never can predict a time and an amount of people, but they’re coming, and probably between about 100 to 150 people per day. The first two weeks of the month, it’s really 200-plus families every month.

VOICEOVER: The elderly living on fixed incomes are among those who need the most help with food donations. For many, the food stamps they receive are just not enough.

CHANCE: A person who picks up from us every month—I don’t know if I should say his name—but he’ll be 110 years old this year, and he’s the talk of Bread for the City, and stronger than two people, two normal people. But he comes faithfully and picks his food up every month.

DONNA HENDRICKS, SENIOR IN NEED OF FOOD ASSISTANCE: I have to go wherever I can go to get groceries, because the cost of living has gone up so high. It’s like a vicious cycle. It reminds me of a hamster running on its wheel, just going around and around and around. And I feel overwhelmed right now. I live on a single income, and it’s true I do get food stamps, but all I get is $70 a month, and that doesn’t stretch for one month. So I come here and I get food once a month, and that helps tremendously.

VOICEOVER: Brian Duss is a multimedia associate for Bread for the World. He’s in the first day of the Food Stamp Challenge, living for a week on what the average amount of food stamps will buy. Brian hopes to bring awareness about the national hunger crisis for those living in or near poverty.

BRIAN DUSS, MULTIMEDIA ASSOCIATE, BREAD FOR THE WORLD: The reason I took the Food Stamp Challenge is because at Bread for the World we focus on hunger and poverty, and I think one of the best ways to really get a picture about what it means to be hungry is to try and live on three dollars a day. Twenty-one dollars for a whole week of eating, you know, that’s what you get when you’re on food stamps, and it’s really difficult. And it’s one way to really drive it home to people, to say, listen, try to live on one dollar per meal for a week.

DUSS: I’ve got a frozen pizza, which I knew that I’d be excited about. It’s a snack. I got some mac and cheese. I got two boxes, actually, but this is mainly ’cause it’ll fill me up.

DUSS: One of the things that people don’t understand about folks who are struggling with hunger is that people are working, and they still can’t make ends meet. These aren’t people who are just sitting around doing nothing.

VOICEOVER: One lawmaker involved in the issue is Congressman James P. McGovern. Like Brian, he’s taken the Food Stamp Challenge. He’s trying to make hunger more of a priority on Capitol Hill.

MCGOVERN: One of the problems in Congress is that when you’re talking about hunger, there are a number of committees that have jurisdiction over issues that deal with hunger. There’s no hunger committee. Look, it is the moral obligation, I think, of every member of Congress and whoever the president is to make sure that we’re responding to the true needs that exist in this country, and that means making sure that, you know, we are helping the most vulnerable in our country.

VOICEOVER: Mark Anderson tries to reach people who can’t make it to the food banks. Once a month at the Samuel Kelsey Apartments, Mark and a handful of volunteers give elderly residents food.

MARK ANDERSON, CO-DIRECTOR, WE ARE FAMILY: I mean, even the free stuff, you have to go to it, generally. And so, for us, the idea of bringing the food straight to the seniors, working directly with the seniors to make this happen, is the best use of the resources that we have at our command and, hopefully, is a way of not only providing, you know, life necessities to folks, but also bringing folks together, folks who are from very different backgrounds, to work for a community that has a place for everybody, where everybody matters and nobody gets forgotten.

MS WARFIELD, RESIDENT AND WE ARE FAMILY VOLUNTEER: Food’s gone up. Bread costs you more. You know, everything costs more money.

VOICEOVER: As a single person, Ms. Warfield only qualifies for the $10 a month minimum in food stamp benefits, but she doesn’t get them. She says the cost of traveling to get the food stamps is too high to be worth the trip.

WARFIELD: I’m not going there for $10 every month. I’d rather not pay the bus or the cab to go to Eastern Avenue. No, no, no.

VOICEOVER: With the passage of this year’s farm bill, the minimum food stamp allotment will rise to $14 a month per person.

Final day of the Food Stamp Challenge for Brian

DUSS: I still have some Rayman noodle left.

VOICEOVER: After six days of the Food Stamp Challenge, Brian has one day left, and he’s feeling the effects.

DUSS: I think, especially towards the end of the week, I’m really having a hard time concentrating. I have a number of projects that I’m trying to get done, and it’s just really hard to focus on them. I talked to a nutritionist, who said that I should be getting about 4,000 calories every day, and I was only getting about 1,500 calories. So it’s definitely not enough. I definitely feel sluggish. I feel like I’ve probably lost muscle, and I feel like I’ve gained fat, ’cause I’ve eaten food and I’ve filled my stomach, but it’s not nutritious food; it’s just the sort of stuff to keep my stomach from making noises.

VOICEOVER: For Brian, this challenge was one week of his life. For people living at or below poverty, the lack of food is an everyday reality.

DUSS: I think that if anyone took the Food Stamp Challenge, they would rethink, one, the way they eat. Two, they would rethink what it is to be on food stamps. They wouldn’t take what they have for granted, because living on three dollars a day is really difficult.

MCGOVERN: We’re in the middle of a presidential campaign. No one talks about this issue. I mean, it’s like, hello? I mean, it’s not on the agenda. No reporter asks any of the candidates, you know, whether they’re running for president or Senate or Congress, you know, "Oh, what’s your strategy to end hunger?" I mean, if I run out of food in the middle of the week, I go to the supermarket and buy some more. For people who are dependent on food stamp budgets, when they run out of food, they run out of food. It’s that simple and that dramatic.

Associate Producer: Eve Qureni

Camera: Eve Qureini, G. McLaurin, David Sullivan

Editor: Garland McLaurin

DISCLAIMER:

Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.