Hunger: The new normal

We are excitedly gearing up for 2011 here at Soup and Bread World Headquarters. We have new product at the printer (whee!) and we have our craft fair spiel down pat. We’re rounding up volunteer muscle, we’re buying new soup warmers, and we’re dusting off the mailing list in anticipation of an imminent call for cooks. So, in the midst of all this activity, on the eve of the biggest food holiday of the year, let’s just stop for a minute and remember what it’s all about.

People are hungry. More than ever.

According to a recent WBEZ interview with Greater Chicago Food Depository capo Kate Maehr, one in eight residents of Cook County turned to a food pantry, soup kitchen, or after-school program to secure food for themselves and their family this year. That’s is a new record and, fears Maehr, a “new normal.”

And Cook County isn’t an anomaly, our exceptionally disastrous budget notwithstanding. Nationwide, hunger is increasing at “an alarming rate,” according to a new report from Feeding America, which estimates that an equivalent one in eight Americans rely on Feeding America’s network of service agencies for food and groceries. If you’re not good at ratios, that’s 37 million people, including 14 million children.

Meanwhile, public awareness about food and nutrition is at a fever pitch — and probably has yet to peak.  Newsweek looked into the growing chasm between those who eat organic quinoa for breakfast and those who reach for the Frosted Flakes this week with a long feature titled What Food Says About Class in America. The piece could, as a Facebook friend pointed out, stand to be “a little less Brooklyn,” but it’s still a good read, and well worth checking out while you’re waiting for your TSA pat-down.

In the last two years Soup and Bread has raised almost $9,000 through soup night donations and the sales of Sheila’s beautiful merch. That money was divided between the Greater Chicago Food Depository and a wide range of neighborhood-based food pantries and soup kitchens. Another $900 generated by our February field trip to the Bell House went to the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.

I can’t quite articulate how gratifying it is to see those numbers. Honestly, I can’t quite believe it! But then I remember that all this is just a drop in the bucket. It is getting colder and darker outside every day, and predictions of an upturn in our collective fortunes may seem premature — especially if you’re standing in line at a food pantry.

So, be thankful. And if you know of a Chicago-area food pantry or soup kitchen that could use a couple hundred bucks this winter, please let me know at soupnbread10 [at] gmail [dot] com.

Soup and Bread 2011 starts Wednesday, January 5, at 5:30 PM at the Hideout. We’ll have more for you on that soon.

ETA: Just saw this timely, eloquent editorial from NYCCAH executive director Joel Berg: To Prove Bi-partisanship, End U.S. Hunger. It fits in well with today’s reading package.

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One Response to “Hunger: The new normal”

  1. Bob Dolgan Says:

    Hi Martha — Thank you very much for this post, and for all you have done to help the Food Depository and pantries and soup kitchens. We’ve been receiving dozens of inquiries the past few weeks from people in need–seemingly more than past years. As Kate mentioned on WBEZ, we need the support now more than ever.

    Bob Dolgan
    Director of Communications
    Greater Chicago Food Depository

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