As millions of families gather for marathon eating sessions across the nation this holiday season, Black families will worry about where their next meal is coming from at a rate that is twice that of Whites, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
While the national rate for food insecurity – defined as “disrupted eating patterns, reduced food intake and skipping meals entirely” – was 14.9 percent, Black households experienced food insecurity at a 25.1 percent rate, compared with White households with a rate of 11.4 percent.
A recent report by the United States Department of Agriculture found that one in four Black households will be forced to choose between paying bills or paying for food and 1 in 10 will be forced to skip meals.
Black children living in food insecure homes also fared worse than other groups. According to Department of Agriculture figures released in September, the national average for children living with food insecurity was 10 percent. For Black children, however, the rate was 14.6 percent – more than twice the rate for White children at 6.7 percent.
Brian Banks, director of Public Policy and Community Outreach for the Capital Area Food Bank, said that he was stunned to see one of his neighbors looking for help at a food pantry in Prince George’s County, Md., the wealthiest Black county in the nation, hit hard with foreclosures during the recession.
Banks said that his neighbor told him after paying all of his other bills, there was simply nothing left to put food on the table.
“You talk about how [food insecurity] can happen to anybody you read these reports that say, ‘It can happen to anybody’ and then you see it happen to a person that you know and it really hits home,” Banks said.
The USDA study reported that only 57 percent of food-insecure families accessed one of the most-used federally funded food programs (WIC, SNAP and free or reduced-price school lunch) and only 56 percent of the families that were forced to skip meals entirely received aid.
“People think the program is for someone else,” Banks said. As the Prince George’s County, Md. example illustrates, the face of hunger is changing as more middle-class families with luxury cars and expensive mortgages scramble to meet their basic necessities.
Bread for the World, a Christian group that fights hunger in the United States and around the world, often leans on lawmakers to craft policies that reduce poverty and provide support to families in need.
Derek Boykins, the associate for African American Outreach at Bread for the World, said that it’s important to realize the power of advocacy. And he said that will become increasingly important as Congress weights making cuts in social programs to avoid going off what is called a fiscal cliff.
“We do have power in terms of using our voice to urge our members of Congress to protect certain programs,” Boykins said.
Banks also urges residents to talk to their legislators and to share their personal stories and struggles with poverty and hunger.
Banks said that lawmakers campaign on the promise to help people. And they need to keep that promise now more than ever.
According to their Web site, the Capital Area Food Bank “distributes 30 million pounds of food annually, half of which is fresh produce; 84,000 pounds of food daily and 500,000 pounds each week.”
CAFB also works with local food pantries throughout the Washington Metropolitan area to offer an array of services including healthy eating courses and help navigating the thorny process of applying for federal food and nutrition assistance programs.
Bread for the World, the Capital Area Food Bank and similar groups push lawmakers to fund programs such as Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as essential in the fight against hunger.
Boykins of Bread for the World said: “It’s important to remember the grandmother, the grandchildren our brothers and sisters that have fallen on hard times and need our support to help keep them out of poverty, support that will ensure that they have food on their tables and support that will ensure that they are food secure not insecure.”