As jobs disappear and families struggle to make ends meet in this recession, we're spending less, especially on luxuries. But according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a record number of American families not only can't afford luxuries -- they can't even afford food.
"These numbers are a wake-up call for the country," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in response to the USDA's report that found "the number of Americans who lived in households that lacked consistent access to adequate food soared last year, to 49 million, the highest since the government began tracking what it calls 'food insecurity' 14 years ago."
We need to attack poverty in America not only with funds provided by our tax dollars but also with increased donations to local food banks and soup kitchens.
Belts should be tighter because we've voluntarily pulled back on excessive spending, not because parents can't afford to feed their children. In reporting on the study, the Washington Post noted that 17 million children live in homes in which food was scarce during the year.
Last year, the number of kids actually going hungry every day jumped from 700,000 children to 1.1 million. I repeat, more than one million children -- babies, toddlers, young kids and teenagers -- wake up and go to sleep hungry in the United States of America. Hunger experts told The Washington Post that, given the economy, they knew things were going to be bad, but not this bad and certainly not record-breaking bad.
Which brings me back to that belt-tightening. There's a potential double whammy at work here. With more help needed, there's a real fear that less help will be available. Though the number of people struggling to get enough to eat is increasing by hundreds of thousands a year, millions more of us face increasing struggles to escape the same fate.
This societal tempest hasn't hit just some isolated coastal town; it has flooded every corner of our nation, including our once-prosperous suburbs peopled by the middle class. None of us should feel safe from it. "This trend was already painfully clear in many communities across our nation," noted President Obama, "where food stamp applications are surging and food pantry shelves are emptying."
I happen to believe that we, as Americans, are up to the challenge of stemming this tide of suffering. I am forever astonished by our nation's ability to rally. Throughout our history we have witnessed this strength in the aftermath of disasters both at home and abroad. We are a nation of communities who believe they are connected by far more than a ZIP code.
Helping others when you think you have little to spare may not be the easiest thing to do, but my mother always said that we could probably take that as a sign that it was the right thing to do.
As our families prepare to give thanks, it is my hopeful prayer that we become more mindful of the crisis around us -- quite possibly, right next door to us -- and that we decide to give true thanks for what we have by giving a generous portion of our time, money and support to our local soup kitchen or food bank. We can also look inside our pantries and decide that we can spare those extra cans of vegetables or jars of tomato sauce and donate them. We can make a difference. Learn how at www.feedingamerica.org.
I'm reminded of a simple prayer, the prayer of forgiveness for our sins, in which we seek forgiveness for the things we've done and those we've left undone. Of the things I've left undone, well, I suspect that I'll never come remotely close to completing that list. But this year, in these next weeks and months, let's do what we can to at least cross one thing off that list: volunteer to help feed others. Act now. Do not wait for another child to go to bed hungry.
As I celebrate Thanksgiving this year, I will be giving thanks for you and the millions of other Americans who look beyond their own family during the holiday season and see their family of fellow Americans -- sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews -- in need. Let us give thanks by giving just a little bit of what we might have in abundance. And if you find yourself with coats, hats, gloves or socks, donate that to charity as well.
Thank you. Enjoy the blessings of Thanksgiving.
Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR; contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill; and former campaign manager for Al Gore.