Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Food Banks Suffering in US; Children Overseas See Aid Cuts

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We outlined, well ahead of the "pack" (mainstream media) the food bank crisis that was developing in the US [Jan 18: One Lonely Voice Agrees with me on Food Inflation] - in that entry I showed how a simple google search for food banks returned some alarming news stories across the nation; and that's before commodities really started ratcheting up into February through April (most food prices have leveled off since to some degree). But as with petrol, many of the actual price increases have yet to really work their way through the system to reach the end user. So the crisis will be growing both here, and abroad. Again, to reinforce - most Americans spend perhaps 12-15% of their expenditures on food (higher for those at the lower runs of society) whereas much of the developing world spends 50-60-70% of their income on food; so when prices double or triple - it's a whole different ballgame. [Jan 30: Hungry Haitians Resort to Eating Dirt] And a little known fact, 1 in 11 Americans is now on food stamps. And growing. Fast.
  • Like nearly a third of the first 50 customers to arrive at the Emergency Food Bank of Stockton that morning, Hoffman was new to the pantry. But since she lost her sales job at a local newspaper in December, she has not found work in Stockton, which has the highest foreclosure rate in the country and a hurting job market.
  • "I'm down on my luck," Hoffman said, squeezing and sniffing the bread. "And food is going through the roof. I need help."
  • Hoffman, 55, is one of the growing number of "nontraditional" food pantry clients across the country. They include more formerly independent senior citizens, more people who own houses and more people who used to call themselves "middle-class" -- those who are not used to fretting over the price of milk.
  • "We're getting calls all the time from people who want to know how to get here," said Kristine Gibson, community outreach manager at the Stockton food pantry. "And when I ask where they live, they give an address of a nice neighborhood, one where you or I would want to live."
  • April saw the biggest jump in food prices in 18 years, according to the Labor Department. At the same time, workers' average weekly earnings, adjusted for inflation, dropped for the seventh straight month. (note: adjusted for this government's fanciful inflation, not "real" inflation - just imagine how much longer this has really been happening for many)
  • A survey it conducted of 180 food banks in late April and early May found that 99 percent have seen an increase in the number of clients served within the last year. The increase is estimated at 15 percent to 20 percent, though many food banks reported increases as high as 40 percent.
  • "The way it's going, we're going to have a food disaster pretty soon," said Phyllis Legg, interim executive director of the Merced Food Bank, which serves 43 food pantries throughout foreclosure-ravaged Merced County.
  • Food banks across the country are in similar straits: While demand is up, supplies and donations are down. The food banks, like their customers, also are suffering from high gas prices and struggling with the impact of rising food prices on their operations. Some have had to cut back on how much food they give, or how often.
  • "If gas keeps going up, it's going to be catastrophic in every possible way," said Ross Fraser, a spokesman for America's Second Harvest.
  • In Albuquerque, N.M., the Roadrunner Food Bank reported that the pantries it serves are turning people away and running out of food.
  • In Baton Rouge, La., the public school system has found students hoarding their free and reduced-price lunches so they can bring them home and have something to eat at night.
  • In Merced, the food bank is planning to curtail a brown bag program, which supplies groceries to senior citizens, from once a week to once every two weeks, Legg said.
  • Even in San Francisco, a city that has been relatively unscathed by the foreclosure crisis and economic downturn, food pantries are seeing hundreds of new clients.
I cannot stress again, how bad inflation is for a country where (anecdotal) statistics show that 70% of people, regardless of income strata, live "paycheck to paycheck". Suddenly the paycheck does not cover nearly as much as it did 1 year ago, 3 years ago, 5 years ago. First comes higher debt service, savings liquidation.... then comes bankruptcies. That's going to be the 2009 story.

But these are the people on the globe who have it good. Let's peek in at kids in the developing world. We've discussed in the past how aid programs are being cut [Mar 26: US Government's Humanitarian Relief Agency Cutting Back] & [Mar 24: UN Agency Appeals for $500M to Avoid Food Aid Cuts]
  • At dawn in a ramshackle elementary school in rural Cambodia, the children think of only one thing: their stomachs. They anxiously await the steaming buckets of free rice delivered to their desks.
  • But by the end of the month, they will no longer get free breakfast from the U.N. World Food Program. About 450,000 Cambodian students will become the latest victims of soaring global food prices.
  • Faced with a shortfall of more than 14,000 tons of rice, and with more pressing needs to meet, the World Food Program stopped the free breakfasts in March. The schools' remaining stocks are expected to run out in the coming days.
  • "I feel hopeless," said Boeurn Srey Leak, a 15-year-old in sixth grade.
  • Rich countries have pledged $469 million for food aid to address what is expected to be a $755 million deficit, due to food prices that have risen 76 percent since December. But the money will not arrive in time to save some food programs from being cut or ended.
  • The numbers are grim. In Burundi, Kenya and Zambia, hundreds of thousands of people face cuts in food rations after June. In Iraq, 500,000 recipients will likely lose food aid. In Yemen, it's 320,000 households, including children and the sick.
  • World Vision may stop helping 1.5 million people — nearly a quarter of the number it serves — because of rising food prices and pledged donations not yet delivered. At least a third are children.
This continues to be a growing crisis that gets very little attention in the US. Well, on to BBC News I suppose.

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