CHICAGO – Though summer tends to deliver a few opportunities to put our feet up and take it easy, hunger never takes a holiday.
But while many of us serve up juicy hamburgers and barrels of potato salad as a prelude to fireworks displays, more than 48 million Americans won’t get enough to eat.
That’s because summertime is particularly difficult for both people who live with food insecurity and the organizations that help them access free food, according to Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization.
Not only are children who are on summer break missing the breakfasts and lunches they would have gotten at school, but parents, who are often subject to the fluctuations of weather for work, struggle to pay for expanded child care and extra food.
Simultaneously, the nation’s food banks scramble to staff pantries and events when individuals and groups of volunteers, such as the Scouts and school-based community service organizations, are off on vacation. And food pantries are not immune to the whims of weather.
“Food banks in Arizona and New Mexico just don’t do summer feeding because there aren’t enough volunteers, there isn’t enough food, and not enough money to get food out to the remote rural areas scattered throughout counties,” said Ross Fraser, director of media relations for Feeding America. “And I repeatedly hear that in states with drought conditions, fewer crops are being planted, which means less donated fresh fruits and vegetables and more farmworkers who aren’t working enough to sustain themselves. Then the farmworkers end up turning to food banks in greater numbers just to get by.”
In some places, the need is so great that food banks resort to unconventional ways to get food to the people who need it the most.
For instance, in Las Vegas, Nev., an ice-cream-style truck will deliver 300,000 meals to a variety of locations this summer, serving about 126,000 food insecure kids in the area. Similarly, Vermont has a “Veggie Van Gogh,” starry-night motif truck that delivers produce to housing projects, schools and clinics.
Dayton, Ohio, does massive food distributions monthly in arena parking lots that serve thousands of families at a time. So does Fort Smith, Ark., with its summertime “Antioch in the Park” event, which distributes food to approximately 1,700 individuals over the course of just three hours.
The Arkansas event is organized by Antioch Consolidated Association for Youth and Family Inc., led by Executive Director Charlotte Tidwell, who told me that the need is so great, and the large donations so plentiful, that it’s become necessary to hold events in the park just so there is enough space to accommodate the huge number of volunteers, pallets of food – and the people arriving to stock up.
“We hold the event in the most low-income area of our community and the area that is most accessible since there is no public transportation (in Fort Smith),” Tidwell told me.
But the park has its own challenges. “Arkansas is very, very hot; it’s like the sun only shines on Fort Smith. We’ve been out on days where it’s 100 degrees, and it’s a real challenge. Not only does the food need to be protected to stay safe, but the elderly come out and stand in the heat for it; people come out with their little children; veterans and other people with disabilities come out and wait in the heat for hours just to get some food,” Tidwell said.
“We have to have paramedics, nurses and emergency responders standing by. We have bilingual volunteers going up and down the long, snaking lines of thousands of people handing out cold water and distributing snacks for the kids. And we have volunteers to help those with disabilities transport their food.”
Such is the challenge of feeding communities that are in dire need – communities where those seeking food assistance are likelier than not to be working poor.
Research indicates that underemployment is the biggest predictor of food insecurity among people living in the United States – more than half (54 percent) of Feeding America’s client households reported at least one employed person at some point in the past year.
Tidwell says that what local food banks need most is cash donations, because they get plenty of food but need funds to help distribute it to the neediest.
Every dollar counts. If you have a few to spare, consider feeding hungry fellow Americans your act of patriotism this holiday.
Copyright, Washington Post Writers Group.