Freedom from hunger is a right due each and every one of our citizens. Yet every week some 40,000 New Mexicans receive emergency and supplemental food from one of nearly 600 hunger relief programs in communities throughout our state because they do not have enough to eat (Hunger in New Mexico 2010). These 40,000 New Mexicans include children who go to bed hungry at night, or parents who forgo their meal so that their children may eat, or out state’s elderly who find their monthly income is no longer able to cover their increasing expenses for rent, utilities, medical care, medications and food. For many of these New Mexicans food becomes a discretionary spending item, and results in higher costs to our state for increased medical visits or hospitalization, or in the case of children results in stunted physical and cognitive development that robs both them and us of their realizing their full potential and their future contribution to our society
However, hunger has a cure – food. This is a problem that we can solve, if we have the will to do so. Even as more and more New Mexicans fall into poverty each year (an additional 30,000 between 2008-2009, according to US Census figures) we slash government programs that provide supplemental food to our citizens. These government programs are necessary due to continually rising food and fuel prices which put purchasing nutritional food beyond the reach of an increasing number of New Mexicans each year. Many of these New Mexicans are employed, yet cannot put adequate amounts of food on the family table. For those increasing numbers of out of work New Mexicans the situation is even more dire. According to a Missing Meals Study commissioned in December 2010 by the New Mexico Association of Food Banks, New Mexicans miss some 117 million meals each year. And recent results from the Map the Meal Gap Study reinforce that 18.5% of our fellow New Mexicans are going into poverty and suffering from hunger.
It is ironic that during this downward economic cycle US Department of Agriculture commodity programs designed to feed hungry Americans are slashed, food donations to food banks from food distributors/retailers decrease and an increased burden is placed upon the philanthropy of our fellow citizens to compensate for these decreases, even as more and more Americans, and New Mexicans, struggle to maintain their own households and have less ability to support charitable causes such as hunger relief programs. It is ironic that during this economic downturn New Mexico received a 38% decrease in the federally funded Emergency Food & Shelter Program.
It is time for our government (federal, state and local) to recognize the dire straits their citizenry is in, and adequately provide for their general welfare, as is their charge. It is time for our community to recognize that hunger is an issue that will not go away next year or conform to fluctuations in annual funding cycles. It is time for our citizens to begin caring more for one another.
Write, or better yet, visit your congressional and state representatives about hunger in your community, and ask how they will address it. Right now the Farm Bill is being heard in both the House and Senate with proposed cuts to SNAP (food stamps) benefits, senior hunger programs, women and infant hunger programs and even possible cuts to commodity foods that food banks receive and distribute. For us here at Roadrunner Food Bank the commodity food we distribute is about 7 million pounds of food a year and cuts to it would significantly impact our ability to provide food throughout the state.
To those who can afford to contribute to United Way or similar community social service funders should continue to do so or increasing your giving, but indicate that you are interested in combating hunger in your community and ask how they are addressing this issue in a period of increased need. Individual citizens, or groups of citizens, can volunteer at a Food Bank or one of the 600 hunger relief programs located throughout our state.
Hunger will not go away by itself, but united, we can make it go away. It is time all of us get busy doing so.