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by Slow Food USA intern Samantha Taylor

It’s the brink of the holiday season and the latest news is that there is a devastating dearth in the supply of Food Banks across the country. America’s Second Harvest, a nationwide network of banks, has been inundated with complaints from pantries in nearly every major city across the U.S, citing an increase in need up to 35%. Unmet, higher demand amounts to half empty bags in the hands of the 35.5 million people facing hunger in our country.

In New York City, where over two million people living below the poverty level depend on emergency food programs (EFP) for sustenance, the shortage is also hitting hard. Since its inception in 1983, the NYC Food Bank has collected and distributed over 68 million pounds of food per year to the 900 pantries and soup kitchens citywide. However, in recent months the typically abundant supply of canned fruit and vegetables, cereals and grains filling pantry shelves have dwindled by nearly half–and the problem is no longer contained below the poverty line. An increasing number of working people, many employed in service jobs compensating well-below liveable wage are facing a choice between heat in their homes and meals on the table as winter fast approaches.

What’s behind the deficit? While the incessant rise of home heating costs and holiday financial strain are partly to blame, the steady, negligent decline of federal emergency food aid is taking the biggest toll. A pantry can successfully provide struggling families with bags of nutritionally balanced food for under 5,000 a month (a remarkably small sum considering how many mouths it feeds) and are currently making do with under half of that. Meanwhile, the number of families relying on the aid is up from 1 to 1.3 million since 2004.

Conversely, as the struggle spreads, inclination toward donation, a major part of a pantry’s success, plummets. In San Francisco’s Bay Area, the Second Harvest food bank finds itself at just a quarter of their annual holiday food-drive goal, once again at the hands of the slowing economy. In Americus, a town in Southwest Georgia where a March tornado crippled the city’s infrastructure, donation is nearly inconceivable to the many residents struggling just to rebound from the damage. Without government aid to hold the reigns as a city regains its strength, the problem simply propagates.

Though the situation is perilous, there is both hope and ample opportunity for change. The House of Representatives recently voted to increase the budget for food stamps by 4 million dollars, nearly doubling the budget for EFP’s. Additionally, if passed the 2007 Farm Bill could mean a significant increase in funding ($250 Million) and invaluable reform in EFP policy. Despite the urgency felt by those in need, the farm bill continues to wait in peril….

Take Action!

So, fellow Slow Food enthusiasts and friends, before the influx of holiday celebrations fills our minds and plates, take a moment to call your senators to show your support. Food Bank NYC offers a comprehensive breakdown of the hunger crisis and powerful statistics. Additionally, direct contributions by way of volunteer work, pantry items or donations are an absolutely integral part of any food bank’s success and the best way to provide immediate aid. Assuredly, any help at all will carry a long, long way.

To find your senator and write to express your support for more money to Food Banks, click here.

For more information on how to help in your home state, Click here and visit Second Harvest, America’s nation-wide food bank.