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Hunger climbs in New York and nationwide

Cyril Josh Barker | 4/12/2011, 4:34 p.m.

This Thanksgiving holiday, many people will sit down for a hearty meal, but for many New Yorkers it will be another day in the struggle to find food. And while there will be plenty of soup kitchens and pantries open throughout the city this Thanksgiving, New York's hungry suffer year-round.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that 89 percent of American households are food-secure, meaning household with no problems accessing food. However, 11.1 percent of house- holds are deemed food-insecure, meaning households who had difficulty accessing food.

Of the households that are food-insecure, 22 percent are Black households. Thirty percent are households with children headed by a single woman and 37 percent are living below the poverty line. In a report released Monday by the Food Bank for New York City, the cost of a Thanksgiving meal in the city is 16 percent higher than the national average. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the average Thanksgiving meal serving 10 cost $44.61. In New York City the same meal cost approximately $52.

"As families come together across the country to give thanks, low-income New Yorkers are finding it more difficult than ever to take part in the celebration," said Lucy Cabrera, president and CEO of the Food Bank for New York City. "Even with government assistance and private donations, the level of unmet need this holiday season is unprecedented." Nearly 13 million American households were labeled food-insecure in 2007. The New York City Coalition Against Hunger (NYCCAH) reports that in 2006 1.3 million New Yorkers, including 400,000 children, lived in households that were food-insecure. That number is projected to increase because of the recent economic crisis.

On Tuesday, NYCCAH released a report titled "No Bailout for the Hungry: Funding Slashed to Emergency Food Providers as Hunger in NYC Continues to Soar" revealing that emergency food providers are serving 28 percent more people in 2008 than last year. Due to the rise in people needing food, 68.8 percent of emergency food agencies in 2008 reported not having enough food to give away.

"The bad news is that we have more agencies than ever running out of food. The hunger situation, which was truly awful in 2007,has now reached crisis proportions," said NYCCAH Executive Director Joel Berg. "The good news is that the next president and Congress have a great opportunity to rapidly reverse these trends by strengthening the nutrition safety net and creating living wage jobs."

The blame falls on the agency's funds being cut on the federal, state and city level. Tuesday's report also revealed that in 2008, 72.3 percent of agencies reported a decrease in government money and food. "In the last year, the cost of food has gone up," said Alexandria Yannias of NYCCAH. "Staple items like bread and milk have gone up and people's wages are not keeping up with the cost of living. People like children and seniors are especially economically disadvantaged."

And while corners are being cut on food services and the number of the hungry rises, there is also an increase in the need for volunteers to help out. Yannias said that while NYCC- AH has no problem getting volunteers during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, it's the rest of the year that needs just as much help. She said, "A lot of people want to help in the soup kitchens during Thanksgiving and Christmas, and they appreciate the help, but they need people who serve food constantly.

In some cases, people can volunteer as little as one hour a month. Just one day of service is helpful, but a long-term investment would be appreciated."

Yannias added that volunteer work in soup kitchens, food pantries or homeless shelters is more than just serving food. People with professional skills like legal counseling and accounting are also needed to help people.

According to NYCCAH, food agencies in the Bronx have received the most demand for food with an increase in 2008 of 88 percent. The Bronx also had the highest number of food agencies forced to reduce hours, ration food and even turn people away. Across the city various food organizations are stepping up to ensure everyone has a meal this Thanksgiving. In the South Bronx on Wednesday, City Harvest provided its Mobile Market to low-income residents in Mel- rose. City Harvest reports that since mid-June it has had to increase the amount of food it provides in the South Bronx by 20 percent.