Hunger: An Invisible Problem
Thousands of Maryland residents struggle with food security; this winter some will choose between heat and food.
Part of a series
Households with children are the most at risk for hunger, according to a recent study by the Food Research and Action Center, which found over 20 percent of Maryland households experiencing times in the past year when they couldn’t afford enough food.
Half a million Maryland residents are living below the federal poverty level, but the urgency and pervasiveness of hunger can be difficult to express because it is largely an invisible problem.
To raise awareness, this fall Maryland Hunger Solutions challenged residents, advocates, and politicians to live on $30 dollars a week, the average benefit granted to individuals participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, (SNAP).
"It was okay for that one week, because I knew there was an end point," said Montgomery County Delegate Shane Robinson, who took the challenge but stopped early due to training for a 200-mile relay race. "I don't know how it would be to do this in the long term, it would be a much more difficult situation."
"It was a wake up call for me," said Robinson (D-Dist. 39) of Montgomery Village. "I knew a lot of the statistics about hunger before, but my focus legislatively has been in different areas. Participating in this program gave me a chance to look at the issues more closely. Going forward, when I think about food I want to think more about the ones who have the least."
While the SNAP program is meant to supplement budgets, not to provide an individual's sole income for food, the experience lends valuable perspective to the impossible choices that many dealing with short budgets have to make.
"Some people who come for help are having to choose between heat and food," said Natalie Corbin, director of development at Manna Food Center in Gaithersburg. "When it's 32 degrees, you have to turn on heat, so often, food becomes the flexible part of a families budget. We see it every year."
Maryland residents are not alone in their struggle against hunger. According to most recent census statistics, 16 percent of the population — 49 million Americans — are living in poverty, and this week, Gallup released a poll that shows American’s ability to feed their families nearing a 3-year-low.
Across the nation, 1 in 4 Americans now rely on 15 federal nutrition assistance programs run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to meet their basic needs, and over half of the USDA's budget goes toward supporting these programs.
Wednesday: Program are making fresh produce more accessible to the region's needy.