A House subcommittee attempting to measure the extent of America's hunger came to Cleveland today and heard the city's Republican mayor plead for the federal government to turn food in government warehouses over to the city's 105,700 unemployed.
"There is no community in the nation that has done more to help itself," said Mayor George Voinovich, who said 8 1/2 tons of vegetables were raised by comprehensive education and training act (CETA) workers in 180 city gardens in vacant lots last year.
"But we have reached the end," he said. We cannot see cutbacks in federal nutrition programs that will knock the legs from under this community."
He asked that the government's butter and cheese giveaways be expanded to include stockpiled stores of 16 additional commodities, such as rice, corn, oats and wheat.
The situation is so desperate in Cleveland that farmers from Grand Forks, N.D., promised this week to send 55,000 pounds of elbow macaroni to the city in the spring.
Throughout the city--where unemployment climbed to 15 percent as many major manufacturers permanently laid off workers--churches and charities have opened more than two dozen new soup kitchens.
The subcommittee arrived at a sensitive time--the end of the month, when food stamp benefits have been exhausted and four days before Social Security checks arrive.
Seven House members, all Democrats except for Rep. Bill Emerson of Missouri, heard church, labor and welfare officials state that April 1 would bring a new food crisis as the winter prohibitions against utility shutoffs end in many states.
"We'll have major shutoffs of utilities in April and people will struggle for months to find money to get utilities back for winter," said John Mattingly of the Inter-church Council, a group of 700 Protestant churches in Cleveland. He noted that 151,000 people in northern Ohio are scheduled for utility shutoffs.
"That money will come from their diet," he said.
A parade of witnesses, many of whom included prayers in their testimony, filled the downtown church where Rep. Leon E. Panetta (D-Calif.) termed their reports "a national shame."
The Rev. Robert Begun, director of the Hunger Service Center of the Catholic diocese of Cleveland, said Clevelanders routinely wait two hours for free government cheese and butter.
The stress of waiting in line for food may have contributed to the death of Fred Barker, 67, who died Thursday of a heart attack while waiting in a Salvation Army cheese line on Cleveland's east side.
"He was in need of food," Don MacMurdo of the Salvation Army said of Barker. "He died at the end of a very long line."
At Metro General Hospital, a public facility, there were 619 low birth-weight babies in 1982, an increase of 109 from 1981, reported Christine Shenk, a nurse midwife at the hospital.
Requests for emergency formula, given to infants judged to be inadequately nourished, increased 162 percent in December, 1982, compared with a similar period in 1980, Shenk said.
"We know that low birth-weight babies risk having a lower intelligence, three times more birth defects and retardation," she said. "We'll all be paying the price later on."
Euclid, a middle class suburb of 100,000 with 20 percent unemployment, opened its first food distribution center this year. Government butter and cheese had been distributed through churches to avoid the public stigma of receiving free food.
"Our older residents in some instances have resorted to shoplifting to keep from going hungry," said Walter Hoag, director of the city's food programs. "God help us for letting this happen."
Demand for food is so great at St. Patrick's Church that 100 people wait in its basement while another 100 eat a hot meal upstairs. Mark Brauer, director of the church seating, said the demand requires him to give individuals only one-quarter of the government's five-pound block of cheese.
The city's Inter-church Council, which runs 16 food-distribution centers, opened three sites in November to provide hot meals on the last six days of the month. Because of the 2,500-person waiting list for the women, infant and children's (WIC) nutrition program in Cuyahoga County, the centers will begin stocking infant formula next month.