No one should be going hungry in Pierce County

The World Food Summit of 1996 defined food security as existing “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.”

Food security is built on three pillars:

 • Food availability: sufficient quantities of food available on a consistent basis.

 • Food access: having sufficient resources to obtain appropriate foods for a nutritious diet.

 • Food use: appropriate use based on knowledge of basic nutrition and care.

“Food insecurity” is a term developed to describe households that are financially stretched to the point where they cannot be certain that all household members will not go hungry.

The dictionary defines starving as “to suffer or die from extreme or prolonged lack of food, to be hungry.” While it may be uncomfortable to admit to ourselves that in 2014 in the United States, in the State of Washington and in Pierce County people in our community are starving, we need to call it what it is.

People have a lot of misimpressions about hunger. Many think it’s only associated with homelessness when, in fact, it is working poor families, it’s kids, it’s seniors. Hunger is often invisible but it exists in our neighbors’ homes, our schools and in our workplaces.

Officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, food stamps have long been a cornerstone of the federal safety net. Benefits, which are adjusted for income, are loaded monthly onto a government-issued debit card. Recipients say the money typically lasts a little more than two weeks.

Recent cuts totaling $8.6 billion to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program over the next 10 years affect 15 states, of which Washington is one, meaning a disproportionately high impact on the poor in our communities. Households in our county will lose, on average, $90 per month. This loss comes on top of a $36 per month reduction in November 2013.

The result is that about half of Washington’s families who get help from food stamps will see, on average, $126 disappear each month from their food budgets. As a consequence, emergency food providers expect to see people coming more frequently and in greater need.”

All these cuts, combined with rising food prices and the high unemployment rate in Pierce County, will put more pressure on food banks already stretched thin by a high level of need. Emergency Food Network distributed 15.6 million pounds of food in 2013, accommodating 1.4 million visits to area food programs – a 69 percent increase since 2008.

Community awareness of hunger is often greatest during the holiday season. The need, however, increases in the summer months as children who had received free or reduced-price lunch and breakfast are at home.

This may seem overwhelming; it is. But there is always something just one person can do to make a difference. You can plant an extra row in your garden and take that food to a food bank. You can make a cash donation. You can register your fruit trees with PierceCountyGleaning.org, and someone will come and harvest the excess.

One important thing you can do is participate Saturday in the 22nd annual Letter Carriers Food Drive by leaving a bag by your mailbox. If your donation can be just one item, please consider a protein such as peanut butter or tuna. If it can be more, add stew, baby formula, or canned fruit and vegetables.

Starving in 2014 in the United States, in the state of Washington, in Pierce County is not acceptable.

Helen McGovern-Pilant is executive director of the Emergency Food Network.