In 1989 the Arcata Homeless Task Force, of which I was a co-director, released a study that showed that homelessness in Humboldt County was a growing epidemic. Part of what the task force did at that time was to try to awaken Arcata’s community to the number of people who were without adequate resources, including food.
Fast forward to today. It isn’t possible to not notice the growing homelessness. But do we have any idea how many people are “food insecure?” In other words, how many of our neighbors are seemingly doing all right, but quietly lacking adequate nutrition or even starving? By definition it means families that are struggling to put food on the table.
The U. S. Department of Agriculture started tracking food insecurity 16 years ago and found a growing number of Americans who are included in this category, with at least 17 million, or one in seven households.
Chicago-based Feeding America (the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity) published a report from a 2009 study that found a 46 percent rise of families seeking support from food banks since 2006.
U. S. Census statistics show that in 2008 19.8 percent of Humboldt County people lived below the poverty level, which was higher than the 13.3 percentage for all of California.
These numbers can only be getting worse with the recession and the state budget crunch. Antipoverty and food assistance programs are being cut. For example, Cal-WORKS, the state program for temporary assistance for needy families, will take a hit with a 3.2 billion dollar drop in funding for Medicaid and welfare under the state’s proposed budget. It includes CalFresh (food stamps). Presently, this program helps to feed a million children.
Other programs in the federal government are being slashed, including the Department of Labor’s Senior Community Employment Service, which helps to find work for the elderly who are earning less than 125 percent of the federal poverty level – $13,600 a year. Without this program tens of thousands more will be thrown out of work and unable to afford food.
“This is not a recession — it’s a depression,” said Val Martinez, executive director of Redwood Community Action Agency of Humboldt County, who was quoted by the Public Broadcasting System. “There’s a level of desperation out there I haven’t seen before. And I’ve been doing this for 30 years.”
There seems to be a lot of food around. Every day there are many Arcatans who buy a latte and scone for breakfast without a problem (myself included). And every day good food is thrown out at restaurants, grocery stores and homes.
So what can we do? Most people who work full-time don’t have the energy to volunteer any personal time. So that’s where specially organized efforts pay off.
As a letter carrier I’m proud of the joint efforts my union, the National Association of Letter Carriers and the United States Post Office have made for over 18 years by continuing their annual Stamp Out Hunger National Food Drive. Last year, the food drive collected a total of more than one billion pounds since it began in 1992.
If a union and the government can work together like this, then anything is possible, right?
Please help out your community on Saturday, May 14 by leaving nonperishable food in or next to your mailbox for your letter carrier to pickup.
We won’t be able to solve America’s hunger problem, we just want to help.
Dana Utman has been involved with the NALC Stamp Out Hunger National Food Drive for 18 years and is the Vice-President of Branch #348 which represents all of the letter carriers of Humboldt County. He is also the Arcata Post Office Shop Steward. nalc.org/commun/foodrive/