I was surprised to learn that when the FOCUS Churches of Albany started a food pantry 40 years ago, the thinking was that it would be a temporary measure. Certainly, once the Viet Nam war was over, the government could spend more money on “butter” issues. Or fairer, more equitable distribution of wealth would take place.
Instead, the food pantry has become an ever-larger commitment for FOCUS, and no doubt other food providers all over the country. Even before this recent economic downturn, the need had never been greater.
I’ve long been puzzled by the notion of poverty in a wealthy country such as the United States, as opposed to other parts of the world. The business news touted how much more wealth the nation as a whole was creating. American workers were increasingly more efficient. Still, there were more and more people coming to the food pantry doors.
Now Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor statistics note that the national poverty rate has increased from 11.3 percent in 2000 (a record low) to 12.5 percent in 2007, an increase of 5.8 million Americans living below the poverty line. Meanwhile, the nation’s unemployment rate has risen from 4 percent in 2000 to 6.1 percent currently.
One of the great fears of most organizations that deal with the poor and near-poor, I’m sure, is that given the current economic uncertainty, contributions will dry up. Indeed, I saw a number of stories on the news pointing to half-empty shelves. Yet, I have read long ago that, proportionally, people with relatively little give far more than those who are well off.
Please contribute to and/or volunteer for a food pantry near you.