Dec. 16, 2005 – After experiencing record demand for food immediately after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Gulf Coast food banks are now in danger of coming up short. Local food banks throughout the region are warning that many people in the area are already going hungry.
Demand for food assistance in the worst-hit areas tripled and remains at unprecedented levels across the region, according to a study released yesterday by Americaâ€™s Second Harvest (ASH), the nationâ€™s largest network of food banks. In interviews with food-assistance recipients and center directors in Gulf Coast states, ASH found an increase in demand across areas with varying income levels, with even some wealthier areas experiencing a doubling of demand.
Through the first two months after Hurricane Katrina hit, more than 70 percent of food bank users were first-time clients, ASH said. The number of newcomers remains high, about double pre-hurricane levels, the study found.
Minorities and the previously impoverished continue to utilize the services at disproportionate rates. According to the ASH study, the median income of current Gulf Coast food bank clients is $26,000, about $20,000 lower than the area as a whole. Twenty-one percent of all households receiving food assistance reported incomes below $10,000 a year, the study found.
"Poor American families are most vulnerable to all disasters from national catastrophes to everyday hunger," ASH President and CEO Robert Forney said in a statement accompanying release of the study yesterday. "With demands still at record high levels in the Gulf Coast states and more than 38 million Americans living on the brink of hunger nationwide, it is critical for federal and state governments, the private sector and individual donors to invest more than ever in our nation's emergency food distribution infrastructure."
Government data and reports in the media and elsewhere back up the networkâ€™s study, pointing to an ongoing problem that the United States has yet to deal with effectively. The federal governmentâ€™s relief package remains without congressional approval, though House-Senate negotiators continued to work on a deal to possibly bring $34 billion or more to the area.
Organizations, charitable or otherwise â€“ including many that do not normally participate directly in hunger relief efforts â€“ have been working mightily to provide food and other necessities to hurricane victims. But resources remain short, ASH warned.
The group is calling for legislation permitting stronger tax breaks and credits for charitable giving and for an additional $200 million food-stamp funding and $23 million to help food banks replenish their stores and repair their facilities.
More than 40 percent of pre-hurricane food bank users reported that their former facility no longer existed, the study also noted.