Hunger soars in U.S., North Carolina

Hunger is spreading in America, including a big increase in the number of children and seniors in need of food, a new study says.

Food banks that are members of the Feeding America network serve 37 million Americans a year, including nearly 14 million children and nearly 3 million seniors, says the study by Feeding America.

In North Carolina, Feeding America food banks cover all 100 counties and provide food assistance for over 1.4 million different people a year through over 2,700 partner agencies that provide emergency food assistance.

Those clients represent 15 percent of the state’s population, up 30 percent from 2006.

With seven food banks or organizations affiliated with Feeding America operating in North Carolina, roughly 170,000 different people in the state receive emergency food assistance in any given week.

The Winston-Salem-based Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina, for example, serves 256,000 different people  a year, or one in eight people in the 18 counties it serves.

Working through 400 partners agencies, the food bank in 2009 distributed over 12.1 million pounds of food, the equivalent of over 10.1 million meals, an increase up nearly 52 percent from the previous year.

But the food bank says it still cannot keep up with demand.

In the past 18 months, it says, its partner agencies have reported a “startling and sustained” 71 percent increase in need.

Nationally, the number of people the Feeding America network of food banks serves, accounting for roughly one in eight Americans, has grown 46 percent since 2006, when the organization released its last study.

In 2006, Feeding America food banks were feeding 25 million Americans a year, including 9 million children.

Roughly 5.7 million people receive emergency food assistance each week from a food pantry, soup kitchen or other agency served by Feeding America’s network of over 20 food banks, up 27 percent from 2006.

Those food banks are serving one million more Americans each week than in 2006.

Dramatically rising rates of unemployment and poverty are driving the big increase in demand for emergency food assistance, the study says.

Many people served by Feeding America food banks struggle with unemployment, choosing between food and other basic necessities, and the pressures of rising health-care costs, Feeding America says.

“It is morally reprehensive that we live in the wealthiest nation in the world where one in six people are struggling to make choices between food and other basic necessities,” Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America, says in a statement.

The national study, conducted by Mathematica Policy Research in Princeton, N.J., also reported increases of 50 percent in the number of children served each year, 66 percent in the number of Hispanics served, 26 percent in the number of African Americans served, 64 percent in the number households with seniors facing hunger, and 59 percent in the number of client households reporting they must choose between paying their rent or mortgage and food.

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