“Most people would be shocked to realize the extent of hunger in their own communities,” said Vicki Escarra, president and chief executive of Feeding America, the country’s largest hunger-relief organization and the study sponsor. “People tend to think that hunger is ‘over there’ somewhere, but not here, not in my own back yard. But this report shows that simply isn’t true — hunger is everywhere in our nation right now.”
Nationally, the study showed that 16.6 percent of Americans experienced “food insecurity” — the feeling of not knowing where one’s next meal is coming from — during 2009. About a third of them made too much money to qualify for food stamps or other assistance.
Regionally, the percentage was lower overall — about 10 percent — except in the District, where 15.8 percent — or 93,000 residents — experienced food insecurity. Affluent Fairfax and Montgomery counties each had about 70,000 residents experiencing hunger at a rate of 7 to 8 percent.
Representatives of local food banks expressed little surprise at the survey’s results, saying it merely reinforces what they have been seeing at the ground level for months: long lines of the jobless and needy struggling just as food and gasoline prices skyrocket. Their ranks are continuing to grow even as the economy improves, they say.
Lynn J. Brantley, president and chief executive of the Capital Area Food Bank, headquartered in Northeast, said that half the people who come for help are working two and three jobs and still can’t pay the bills. The agency distributed a record 30 million pounds of food in 2010, up from 27 million in 2009.
“The face of hunger in American is changing,” Brantley said. “They’re coming in because they can’t make ends meet, and they’re embarrassed to go for food stamps.”
Locally, the percentage of those who are hungry but don’t qualify for federal assistance was far above the 30 percent national average — as high as 70 percent in affluent Loudoun County and 73 percent in the city of Falls Church.
Jack Cochran, a 61-year-old information technology administrator from Nokesville who was laid off in January, doesn’t qualify for food stamps and has been forced to go to the local food pantry in Manassas for groceries for himself and his disabled son as he sees his small severance dwindle.
“I’ve got another two months, and I’m in deep trouble if I don’t find work,” he said. A generous friend has given him packages of frozen steak and chicken to last for a while, but they’ll be eating beans and hot dogs when that runs out, he says.