Guest Column: More northern Illinois residents receiving food assistance

By H. Dennis Smith

Hunger is not just an urban issue. Fueled by sustained poverty growth and double-digit unemployment, hunger has exploded throughout the 13 counties served by Northern Illinois Food Bank (NIFB) that surround Cook County and Chicago. No longer can we ignore the hunger problem by thinking that it does not exist in our local towns and villages. Statistics and individual stories substantiate the fact that people all around us need food.

The Hunger in America 2010 study that was just released reports dramatic increases in the number of people receiving food assistance in northern Illinois. In comparing data from the Hunger Study in 2001, the number of different people receiving food in a given week grew from 21,035 to 61,600. And 43 percent of the households receiving food have at least one employed member.

Hunger is now a suburban issue. Hunger growth did not happen just because of a struggling economy; it is the result of a developing trend. As population soared 15 percent in the suburban counties served by Northern Illinois Food Bank this past decade, it was accompanied by a 42 percent growth of people living in poverty.

The increased number of low-income people contributes to the expanding hunger issue. Poverty is not the only reason the ranks of the hungry have grown. Unemployment and underemployment are pressing causes as well as higher health care, energy and housing costs, which often force people to choose between using their money for that purpose or food.

Additional data from the 2010 Hunger Study shows that NIFB provided food to 502,400 different people annually. NIFB and its 50-plus agency partners struggle each day to help the hungry. We are committed to help today, and we must stand prepared to meet the need tomorrow since all indicators suggest that hunger is not going away.

It takes significant resources to wage this battle against hunger. NIFB has 14 trucks on the road picking up and delivering food for the hungry. NIFB is handling four times as much food as it did at the start of the decade, which means it has more employees and volunteers to do the work. NIFB is raising money to construct a new facility that will enable it to more efficiently handle food needed by the hungry. NIFB expects food distribution will double within the next five years. Should the current trend continue, it might even triple as it has done since 2001.

A hunger explosion has happened in the suburbs! What can you do to help? Be willing to acknowledge that there is hunger in your area, and choose to give your time, your influence and your money so that we can collectively resolve this problem before it eats away at the fabric of our suburban communities.

H. Dennis Smith is president and CEO of the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

 From the Mar. 3-9, 2010 issue

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