In the Suburbs / The disease of hunger needs all of our help
Published 12:00 am, Friday, December 8, 2017
As we chowed down on our turkey, yams and stuffing last week, I totally forgot that more than 100,000 people across Fairfield County, with about 34,000 of those people being children, may have had no food on their Thanksgiving or any table for that matter. On a broader scale, according to the Connecticut Food Bank, across a six-county area that it covers, “ about 12.2 percent of the population in Fairfield, Litchfield, Middlesex, New Haven, New London and Windham Counties is food insecure - that includes more than 309,000 people, including 95,600 children. And the statewide figure on hunger is 13.1 percent.” That figure puts Connecticut at about 10th in the nation on the hunger scale.
Given those shocking statistics, I couldn’t help thinking about one radio commercial I have continued to hear throughout this year. The voice is of a little boy, who reminds us that we’ve probably seen him in our neighborhood and he rides the bus with our children. Most people, he tells us, think that he’s a pretty good kid. But then he hits us with the one-two punch that he’s only one of many who go hungry nearly every night. As the commercial ends, I fight back the tears and wonder if this young man lives in my neighborhood or even attends the school where I work in Bridgeport.
Either way, this little boy and others across our area may rarely have food on their dinner tables. Fortunately, with the hot breakfast program we provide along with other schools in Bridgeport and, I’m sure, in Fairfield, these children are at least receiving one meal during the day.
What I found particularly eye opening was an article written as far back as 2014 by the Fairfield Community Foundation, entitled “Hunger Lives Here”. In a section called Urban and Suburban poverty the author pointed out, “While our cities often struggle with stretching resources to manage a higher need, the suburbs face a lack of access to or awareness of food assistance programs…In Darien less than 5 percent of families living below the poverty line are receiving SNAP (food stamps) while that number is closer to 50 percent in Bridgeport.”
The article also addressed seniors, many of whom are on fixed incomes and spend so much on medical expenses and prescriptions that they often have little leftover to spend on food. And with a percentage of those individuals suffering from diabetes and other health problems that require special diets, eating in soup kitchens is often not possible.
Connecticut’s high cost of living makes it difficult for low-income working families to make ends meet.” Under current conditions, even with the minimum wage at slightly over $10, a family would still have to earn nearly $25 an hour to afford a two bedroom apartment in this area.
I recalled hearing that a small donation to the Bridgeport Rescue Mission could provide several meals to needy folks in the area. And I know there was a drive as far back as November 9th to raise money for the mission. “So where was I then?” I asked myself. “Why didn’t I pick up the phone?”
I definitely feel guiltier this year about my lack of responsiveness to the plight of those who go hungry and want to do more if I can, so I have contacted the Bridgeport Rescue Mission and will be offering to volunteer over these holidays. But I am hardly pinning any medals on myself, because my efforts are long overdue.
I believe that each of us should at least acknowledge what I consider the disease of hunger and look for ways on our own to help those in need, especially children and the elderly. Our schools probably know of families where access to food may be more and we can consider adopting a family and creating a food basket of nutritional items that will last well beyond one meal.
I also found a few of many outlets in our area where food and/or cash donations can be given. I have listed a few of those here and most have web sites for donations and volunteering locally. They include Operation Hope, Feeding America, Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County, Food Rescue and Feed the Children.
What is most important to me is that we don’t just acknowledge the disease of hunger around these upcoming holidays, but all year. These hungry folks may be our friends, neighbors or others we see every day. We should know that while they always have a smile on their faces, they could have a pit in their stomachs every night.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer. “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can
be reached at email@example.com.