Food Stuff

Nov 17, 1999 at 12:00 am


As the holiday season approaches, the food banks and soup kitchens of the Detroit area find themselves overwhelmed. More clients visit at this time of year, and the kitchens receive a glut of donations and volunteers eager to spend their Thanksgivings spooning out stuffing to those we politely call "the less fortunate." But this year — all year, not just in November and December — the numbers of those seeking a free lunch are greater than ever.

That’s because President Clinton’s and Gov. Engler’s welfare cutbacks have pushed an additional 100,000 people in the Detroit area to seek charity food. New welfare rules have made many people ineligible for food stamps, and cut the amounts for those who remain eligible. In Michigan, the monthly allotment fell from $69 to $67 per person between 1994 and 1998.

Peter Eisinger, director of the State Policy Center at Wayne State University, estimates that welfare cutbacks caused 20 percent more people in the tri-county area to turn to charity to keep from going hungry in 1999.

Of course, private charity — meaning churches and nonprofit social service agencies — can hardly shoulder the burden formerly carried by the federal government.

David Hacker, director of the Hunger Action Coalition, says, "These providers are just volunteer-run; the congregations are strapped themselves."

Researchers from the Center on Hunger, Poverty and Nutrition Policy at Tufts University estimate that donations to the nation’s food banks would have to increase by more than 10 times their current rate of growth by 2002 to meet the expected additional demand.

Advocates of the poor use the term "food-insecure" to describe people who may not literally be hungry, but who are often uncertain where their next meal is coming from.

Eisinger says "hunger" is officially defined as "kids missing meals because there’s no food in the house." By this measure, 3.4 million children are hungry each year in the Untied States.

Households that are food-insecure may rely on scavenging, food banks, borrowing from neighbors, or on the adults skipping meals so the kids can eat. A 1998 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found 10 million people living in households that suffered directly from hunger, and 26 million that were food-insecure.

Joel Berg, community food security coordinator for the Department of Agriculture, says, "Americans are trained to think that hunger and poverty are just part of the natural environment. ... But hunger is man-made, it is society-made, it is government-made, it is economically made."

Similarly, Eisinger says, "The new burden on the charitable food sector is not the product of some large economic downturn, industrial upheaval, or natural disaster largely beyond human control. It is instead the consequence of a policy decision."

One solution to food insecurity is reversing those government policy decisions. In the meantime, take out your checkbook. For a list of food pantries, call the Hunger Action Coalition at 313-963-7788.


Want to find out more about hunger in the metro Detroit area? Visit Metro Times' home page where you’ll find a link to our award-winning "Edible Complex" special issue. ... Hate to see a turkey die? Join the Farm Sanctuary’s Adopt-A-Turkey Project, and save the life of a turkey this Thanksgiving. You’ll even receive a photo of the turkey you’ve saved. Call the toll-free adoption hotline at 888-SPONSOR.