The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on March 29, 1998 · Page 44
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 44

Salina, Kansas
Issue Date:
Sunday, March 29, 1998
Page 44
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HUNGER: A startling crisis M ichelle Leneski, 5, was helping her mother, Lisa, sort through the tomatoes at a food bank run by the Rapture Church in Lothian, Md., less than an hour south of the nation's capital. It was a drizzly day, and Lisa looked nervously at the washed-out sky. Her husband is a construction worker, pouring concrete for roads and buildings and bridges. It's a tough, dirty job, And when the weather is bad, there is no work, and no check. "You never know," she said. "He might come home today because it's raining." Lisa works, too, as a part-time waitress, serving meals for a caterer, but when she's away she worries about Michelle and her 10-year-old brother: "You can't leave other people with kids these days. Know what I mean?" Hunger is Increasing In America - despite the booming economy. "It's an abomination" - but some are uniting to fight back. BY CONTRIBUTING EDITORS Cokie Roberts and Steven V. Roberts When all goes well, the Leneskis get by. But if one thing goes wrong — a sick child, a broken truck, even a worn-out pair of shoes <— their fragile budget can crack open. "The kids," says Lisa, "always need something." Lisa visits the food bank most Fridays, stocking up on staples like bread and lettuce and tomatoes, and that cuts her food bill at the market by about $60 a week. With that additional cash, Lisa can afford a few extras — new clothes for the children, a birthday present for her sister. "It's real important," she says of her weekly trips to the church. "It helps a lot." Hunger's new face: working people The Leneski family reflects the hidden face of hunger in America today. The economy is booming; the stock market is breaking records. But not everyone is sharing in the prosperity. The gap between the rich and the poor, between the secure and the scared, is growing steadily. The rate of hunger is actually rising. And food banks, like the one in Lothian, struggle to keep up with the demand. "For the first time," says Sharon Daly, of Catholic Charities USA, "agencies and parishes are having to turn people away. The shelves are bare." Five recent studies dramatize this startling crisis: Catholic Chanties fed 5.6 million people in 1996, up 14 per- cent over the previous year. The U.S. Conference of Mayors surveyed 29 cities and found emergency food requests up 16 percent. One in five requests could not be filled, Nine out of 10 cities expect demand to rise again this year. The Department of Agriculture estimates 27 percent of the food served in this country is wasted. And Second Harvest, a national food distribution program, finds that two out of five households using charity have someone working, half of them full time. The Congressional Hunger Center says others are underestimating the problem. One example: A food bank in Fredericksburg, Va., reports a 42 percent increase in traffic and adds: "We could distribute three times the food we do now." Longer hour* at the food bank Need is growing particularly fast among families like the Leneskis, people who want to work, and often have jobs, but can't seem to gain any measure of security or stability. Many food banks now have to stay open evenings and weekends because so many customers work during the day. Many Sundays, The Washington Post carries more than 150 pages of help- wanted ads, but the folks lining up at the Lothian food bank lack the skills and experience to qualify for most openings. Darlene Mayhew says she applied for more than 50 jobs but can only find work cleaning houses at $6.50 an hour, and that's spotty. When parents do find work, the cost of child care can cut their paychecks to shreds. Some days, says Georgeiann Smith, she makes $13 cleaning houses with Darlene but has to pay a sitter $10. Darlene's story illustrates the connection between education and hunger. Pregnant at 16, she dropped out of school in the ninth grade. Now a single mother with two children, and no support from her ex-husband, she says, "Somewhere I got lost along the way." Without the food bank, dinner at the Mayhews' is often biscuits and gravy. Debby Hunnell volunteers at the Rapture Church food bank, but some weeks she's a client as well. Her husband, like Lisa Leneski's, does seasonal construction work, and the fam- ily has no health insurance. When her daughter got sick recently, the $60 doctor's bill took a big bite out of the weekly budget. With four kids between 6 and 13, Hunnell usually spends $140 a week on food. So when the medical bill came due, she spent only $80 at the grocery and made up the rest at the food bank. "If a kid gets sick, you've got to take her to the doctor," Hunnell says with a weary sigh. Kay Stafford is also a volunteer, picking up food from a parking lot near Annapolis, about a half-hour from Lothian, and distributing it to needy families in her neighborhood. A group called Food Link hires a truck every Friday that picks up discarded produce at a Baltimore wholesale market and brings it to the lot, where churches and community groups line up for the boxes of cabbages and tomatoes, lettuce and bananas. Like Debby Hunnell, Stafford has been needy herself, especially after she had an operation and lost her job as a community health worker. With two daughters in college and a third going next year, she still supplements her husband's salary as a meat cutter with an occasional bag of free food. "I have a lot of responsibilities," she says. Generosity hasn't followed prosperity Cathy Holstrom, Food Link's program director, says these stories are typical. Families will use their available cash for rent or heat or medical bills, and "food is the one item on the list that people keep moving down, moving down." When the cash runs out, they turn to the food bank. If working families comprise a growing percentage of food bank customers, the majority are still destitute: seniors on fixed incomes, single mothers, people with disabilities and diseases who can't support themselves. And food bank workers say dependency tends to run in families. "It's in the blood of a lot of the young people who come up," Jeremiah Forrester says as he helps unload the truck at the Annapolis parking lot. Another volunteer, Paul Lenharr Sr., says his work as a probation officer gives him a grim view: "A lot of cases I deal with in court are kids who steal because they're hungry." Supply has not kept up with the ris- Continwd on next page 35 MILLION HUNGRY AMERICANS • Nearly 35 million , 'Americansjive in hungry or . "foodrinsecure" households, says the Tufts University Center 90 Hunger, Poverty and f " Nutrition Policy, . • 92% of cities expect ; the demand for food aid to rise through this year, reports the U.S. Conference of Mayors. <! ' " t ^ r • Requests for emergency , food assistance*rpsexl6% jn49,97, the highest rate .. ^ of increase since 1992, -according to the mayors' conference, 0,ne-fifth of those requests went unmet because of a lack of resources. • 26 million Americans received food from food banks last year, says Second Harvest Of those people, 37,6% were male, 6?.4%/smai& ty$ riy 318% were 17 or t younger, 16% 65 or older. ,47.1% were white, 324% blacK,14,6%HispaniQ, 2.5% Native American, 0.1% Alaskan Native, sian, 2,8% Qtoer. ' » 60% Qf food bank clients ,- ,,-• - ...... Harvest. Nearly 19% have at * • ** * I on. How you can help, Page 6 4 USA WEEKEND • March 27-29,1988 COVER AND COVER STORY PHOTOGRAPHS BY TOM WOLFF USA WEEKEND • March 27-29,1988 5

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