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Emergency Food Crisis
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Almost all churches in America provide emergency food to help families in crisis in their local community. Two in five provide a food pantry or soup kitchen on their own, and an equal number do so in cooperation with one or more other congregations and/or a faith-based charity, according to the Faith Communities Today (FACT) survey. In urban neighborhoods, it is closer to 100 percent; we have all come to expect these ministries to provide for the most basic needs.

Emergency food bank helpers need your assistance. “Donations are down and the need is up,” explains Michael Martinez, writing in the Chicago Tribune. Two respected, recent surveys show that most food pantries and soup kitchens are struggling with the double-whammy of both the growing number of families with emergency needs and the “compassion fatigue” of Americans who gave large amounts to the survivors of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as the Indian Ocean tsunami, earlier this year.

Is there a point at which you have “done my part” or given too much? How many of us have really reached that point? The latest Expectations Index from anational sampling of nonprofits surveyed by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University shows that giving is sliding down again the way it did in the aftermath of the massive donations after 9-11 in 2002 and 2003. Hearts were touched by the scenes from New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast and people gave generously around the world. Some of this money may have been diverted from local charities that actually face growing needs in your community.

Each year in December, the U.S. Conference of Mayors collects information from the 24 largest cities about hunger and homelessness. In 2005, “requests for emergency food ... increased by an average of 12 percent.” Nearly one in five of the families asking for food are being turned away empty-handed these days. A total of 83% of food pantries report that they have had to decrease thenumber of bags of groceries they provide to each family and/or increase the interval before people are permitted to return for help. Remember who these people are that are being turned away: The Mayors’ survey says that the majority (54%) are families with children and that 40 percent of the adults are employed. Unemployment and high housing costs lead the lists of how people get into food emergencies. Substance abuse and mental health problems account for only a small percentage of these emergencies.

Donations Badly Needed

The economy is booming for Americans with higher incomes and even much of the middle class, but it is hurting those on the low end of things. This is not the time to slack off on donations to your local food pantry. In-kind donations are needed just as much as cash. For example, donations of food items are down 12 percent in Los Angeles and eight percent in Chicago.

This is an emergency you can do something about. Every time you go to the supermarket, buy something for the hungry among us as well as for yourself. You know where the drop-off points are in the community. Send a check too!

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By Monte Sahlin. Copyright © 2006 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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