Hunger in America: 1 in 7 rely on food banks

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Video courtesy of USA Today

LORTON, Va. (RNS) When Mary Smallenburg, 35, of Fort Belvoir, Va., opened a package from her mother to find cereal and ramen noodles, she burst into tears. Without it, she wouldn’t be able to feed her four children.

“It got to the point where I opened my pantry and there was nothing. Nothing. What was I going to feed my kids?” Smallenburg said, adjusting a bag of fresh groceries on her arm.

Smallenburg’s family is one of 50 military families that regularly visit the Lorton Community Action Center food bank. Volunteers wave a familiar hello as she walks in the door.

“None of what we have been through has been expected,” Smallenburg said. Three of her four children have special needs, and her husband is deployed in Korea. “The last few months, actually, coming here has been a godsend.”

Nationwide, 25 percent of military families — 620,000 households — need help putting food on the table, according to a study by Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks.

“The results are alarming,” said Bob Aiken, chief executive officer of Feeding America. “It means that people in America have to make trade-offs. They have to pick between buying food for their children or paying for utilities, rent and medicine.”

One in seven Americans — 46 million people — rely on food pantries and meal service programs to feed themselves and their families, the study found.

“Hunger exists in literally every county in America,” Aiken said. “It’s an urban problem, it’s a suburban problem, and it’s a rural problem.”

Linda Patterson, executive director of Lorton Community Action Center, said stereotypes of the people who need food assistance are misleading.

“The people who come here are hard workers. They are employed. They are the school bus drivers, the lab techs in doctors offices, receptionists, the janitors who clean the floor of your children’s school,” Patterson said. “They just can’t make ends meet because some kind of crisis has hit them.”

The Hunger in America study found that of people who use food banks:

• 26 percent are black, 20 percent are Hispanic, 43 percent are white and 11 percent are other.

• 33 percent of households have at least one family member with diabetes.

• 65 percent of households have a child under 18 or someone 60 or older.

“Children are going to school, not looking forward to learning but looking forward to eating,” said Shamia Holloway, spokeswoman for the Capital Area Food Bank.

The Lorton Community Action Center has seen an 18 percent increase in people who need food assistance since food stamp benefits were cut in November, Patterson said.

“Many of our families, if they don’t come, will have to choose between paying rent or their kids eating that night,” Patterson said. The median monthly household income of Feeding America network clients is $927.

Sydni Marquesas, 47, of Lorton, works in merchandising. “It doesn’t pay much and they limit your hours,” she said. “Plus, Virginia just made it so hard to apply for SNAP.”

SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, what food stamps are called now. Marquesas has used the food bank to get food for herself and her 14-year-old daughter for more than a year and a half.

Recently she started taking nutrition classes through the food bank. “The classes are great,” she said. “I am learning about healthy eating on a budget.”

In the past year, food banks have increased their focus on healthy foods. The study found that 79 percent of people who use food banks report purchasing inexpensive, unhealthy food just to have enough to feed their families.

“We are seeing a change. People are starting to understand the correlation between diet and illness,” said Allison Majewski of the Capital Area Food Bank. “They want healthier food. They are asking for dairy, meats and fresh produce.

“The people who come to us for help are coming more regularly,” Majewski said. “We aren’t a one-time emergency stop anymore. We are a staple for them, so it’s very important that we make these healthy foods available.”

(Natalie DiBlasio writes for USA Today.)


  • Great article, Natalie.

    “The median monthly household income of Feeding America network clients is $927.”

    This situation is a national disgrace.

    In an effort to cut expenses and sequester the budget in hard times, the government is not functioning for the regular people anymore.

    Expensive wars (which we keep losing) , Lack of jobs, lack of skills and lack of education are destroying our country.

    And the way many people turn to ‘god’ to deal with these problems
    only adds to the national nightmare.
    Nothing humane can come from putting god’s needs ahead of human needs.

  • socialjusticeNOW

    How predictable that the biggest percentage of people using food banks are WHITE. Probably cis and male, too. Even when it comes to starving, our oppressors have to dominate and be #1.

    Hungry white people, CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE! Let trans POC women eat instead of hogging the food for yourselves! Why do CEOs need to be using a food bank, anyway?

  • Sister Geraldine Marie, R.N.

    It is a national disgrace that our own people haven’t enough food! Wars are expensive and should be stopped, period. And every program that is wasteful should be stopped as well. People are our greatest resource. A just nation ensures a healthy, prosperous citizenry.
    The Almighty commands it!

  • Fran


    That is why God’s kingdom or heavenly government (Daniel 2:44) will soon put an end to all corrupt governments of man, replacing them, and ruling with righteousness, love and justice (Isaiah 11:1-9).

    Jesus foretold that some of the signs of his presence and the last days of an era would be “nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be food shortages and earthquakes in one place after another.” (Matthew 24:7). We are living in those “last days” and the good news of God’s kingdom is being preached worldwide before the end comes (Matthew 24:14).

    During Jesus’ upcoming 1,000-year rule, God’s kingdom will usher great blessings to meek persons of all nations:

    “There will come to be plenty of grain on the earth.” Psalm 72:16

    “The eyes of the blind ones will be opened.” Isaiah. 35:5 (I am thinking of Stevie Wonder and Andrea Bocelli :-))

    “The lame one will climb up just as a stag does.” (Isaiah 35:6)

    “No resident will say “I am sick.” (Isaiah 33:24)

    “Do not marvel at this, because the hour is coming on which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, and those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28,29)

    None of these blessings can come from man and/or his governments; but they WILL come about from God’s kingdom!
    😀 😀 😀

  • Fran

    “When the righteous are many, the people rejoice; but when the wicked one rules, the people groan.” (Proverbs 29:2)

  • @Sister Geraldine,

    I was with you until: “The Almighty commands it!”

    That is nonsense.

    If the Almighty was truly ALMIGHTY and if he really COMMANDED it,
    Why didn’t it HAPPEN? Do you understand the meanings of the words ‘almighty’ and ‘command’?

    Futhermore, if voters would stop praying and actually command this god-soaked Tea-party government to snap out of it we might accomplish what the Atheist states have already achieved:

    women’s rights, healthcare, equality
    and a decent wage for all:

    Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Massachusetts,
    New Zealand, Japan, France…etc.


    “The Lord said, ‘Thou shalt stay foolish for me and die a fool or else.” ( 1 Paul 45:32)

    Paul’s Epistles to the Dingbats 🙂
    is one of the lesser known Christian texts.

    Despite that, it has strangely been
    the central teaching of Christianity for 2000 years.

    Gullibility must be ‘written on the human heart’. 🙂

  • Notice please that I am not screeching “out of context”.
    Notice also that I am not accusing you of ‘cherry picking’.

    Next, please notice that I could string together a much more hateful list of quotes. It would be just as ‘valid’, thus proving the whole enterprise is
    actually invalid. The Bible can’t be the word of a god if it speaks out of both sides of its mouth.

    “bring to me those enemies of mine and execute them in front of me.” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)

  • Fran


    The illustration of the minas brought out at Luke 19:11-27 and at Matthew 28:19,20 is just that…an illustration, not literal, as a method to reveal the heart condition or attitude of people.

    Jesus is the “man of noble birth” and “heaven” is the distant land to secure kingly power for himself.” When Jesus arrives there, his Father will grant him kingly power.

    Before leaving, however, the man of noble birth (Jesus) gives each of them a silver mina, saying: “Do business till I come.” The 10 slaves in the initial fulfillment represent Jesus’ disciples. In an enlarged application, they picture all who are prospective heirs with him in the heavenly kingdom.

    The silver minas are valuable pieces of money, each amounting to 3 month’s wages for an agricultural worker. The mjnas represent assets those spirit-begotten disciples could make use of in producing more heirs of the heavenly kingdom until Jesus’ coming as King in the promised kingdom. After his resurrection and appearance to his disciples, he gave the symbolic minas for making more disciples and adding to the kingdom-of-heaven class.

    But, his citizens hated the man of noble birth (Jesus) and sent out a body of ambassadors after him to say “we do not want this man to become King over us.” The citizens are Israelites or Jews, not including his disciples.

    After Jesus’ departure to heaven, these Jews, by persecuting his disciples, made known they did not want Jesus as King.

    How do the 10 slaves use their minas? The first one gained ten minas; the second made five; these slaves were greatly commended by Jesus because they proved faithful.

    The slave with the 10 minas pictures a class or group of disciples from Pentecost 33 C.E. until now that includes the apostles.

    The slave with the 5 minas represent a group during the same time period that increase their King’s assets on earth. Both groups zealously preach about God’s kingdom. Nine of the slaves did successful business and increased the holdings.

    But one slave kept a mina laid away in a cloth. He was in fear of the noble man (Jesus), thought him a harsh man, that he takes up what he did not deposit and reaped what he did not sow.

    Jesus referred to that slave as being wicked as he did not take the mina and deposit it into a bank which could have collected interest.

    Jesus instructed those standing by him to take the mina from him and give it to the person with the 10 minas.

    Loss of the symbolic mina means loss of a place in the heavenly Kingdom. That class is not pronounced wicked because of any badness he does, but because he failed to work for the increase of wealth of his master’s kingdom.

  • @Fran,

    Thanks for actually ENGAGING me on the matter of the Parable of the Minas.

    I have been mentioning it FOR WEEKS and nobody else takes the bait!

    You said,
    “The illustration of the minas brought out at Luke 19:11-27 and at Matthew 28:19,20 is just that…an illustration, not literal, as a method to reveal the heart condition or attitude of people.”

    “Execute them” is just an ‘illustration’, Fran?
    It is NOT LITERAL?

    1. Then why have so many real people slaughtered because of this Parable? “Execute Them” – JESUS (luke 19:27)

    2. What else is NOT LITERAL in the Bible? Please list some other examples and explain how you know they are NOT LITERAL.

    3. Is this LITERAL? “I am under such constraints!” (Luke 12:49-51). How can an all powerful god be constrained? What sense does that make?

  • Rob T

    I agree with MAX on this one. Jesus should have known better than to say something like ‘execute’. Can’t be a god if you can’t figure out how bad things could work out if you say something like that.

  • Rob T

    check your privilege means….what exactly? not following that argument.

  • wyatt earp

    A – M A X –
    I love you, dude.
    You are so correct. But religion is not going to give up its fancy place in the pecking order. Keep rocking’ I like your style.

  • Mags

    Atheist Max is a troll. Now, onto the serious stuff: very troubling and shameful to our country when 25% of military families need help while our politicians are living large at the taxpayers expense. That being said, and being married to a retired veteran, I know there are a lot of resources out there, on bases and provided by the military, to help these families. I believe education, self control and delayed gratification are some of the key areas where we can help ourselves. When I was first starting out, I had a go phone, used the computer at the library and did not have cable nor internet, so that I could provide myself with some much needed basics. I had to make some touch choices. And, I do believe folks use some of these services because they believe these luxuries – yes, luxuries – are basics as opposed to luxuries. No easy solution here. Glad to know there are places, supported by the generous public, to help these folks out, but there shouldn’t be such a great need in the first place.

  • @Mags,

    “education, self control and delayed gratification are some of the key areas where we can help ourselves.”

    Getting rid of ‘luxuries’ like ‘the internet’ is going to assist in education? How is that helpful?

    If you are advocating ‘self-control’ how is that helping anyone.
    That is like watching a person who is drowning and yelling, “SWIM!”

    If they could swim they wouldn’t be drowning.
    Ah, the comforts of a religious world-view.

  • Will do. Cheers to you!

  • Fran


    First of all, happy Thursday to you ! Thanks for your response to my response about Jesus’ illustration about the silver minas. This is my response to yours. 🙂

    Did Jesus literally go out and execute the Jews that did not accept him as King of God’s kingdom? Of course not! However, he kept preaching about God’s kingdom to them until his death.

    It is interesting to note that when Pilate asked to Jews, “shall I impale your King?” The chief priests answered “We have no king but Caesar.” At that time, Jesus was handed over them to be impaled. (John 19:15-16). They were willing to release a criminal instead of Jesus, an innocent man.

    When the apostles were commanded to stop preaching in Jesus’ name after he died and was resurrected by God, Peter told them:

    “We must obey God as ruler rather than men. The God of our forefathers raised up Jesus, WHOM YOU SLEW, hanging him upon a stake. God exalted this one as Chief Agent and Savior to his right hand, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 5:29-31)

    Jesus was the one who was slain, not the Jews! As to whether or not Jews today will change and accept Jesus as their King when he begins his upcoming 1,000-year rule remains to be seen. However, the fact remains that many Jews did accept Jesus by the preaching and teaching of the apostles in the book of Acts.

    I agree with you that many literal persons have been murdered in the name of “religion” through the centuries. During the First World War in 1914, the clergy supported the war enthusiastically! They were unable to place Christian faith before nationality. In other words, Christian soldiers of all denominations were exhorted to kill each other in the name of their Savior !!!! This is definitely NOT what Jesus promoted to his disciples; but the loving of our fellowman as ourselves (Matthew 22:39) and even loving our enemies and praying for those persecuting us!! (Matthew 5:44).

    So my answer to your question as to why this takes place is because FALSE RELIGION promotes war and politics, something Jesus and his disciples stayed clear away from!

    The world empire of false religion is pictured as a harlot in the book of Revelation and is named Babylon the Great. She commits fornication with the kings of the earth (man’s political systems). She will receive deserved judgment and destruction from
    God through the hands of her lover, the political systems, who will turn on her. It is interesting to note that Revelation 18:1-24 describes her outcome and verse 24 mentions:

    “In her was found the blood of prophets, and of holy ones and of all of those who have been slaughtered on the earth.” This has definitely been confirmed through man’s history. 🙁

    You asked what is not literal in the Bible and I provide you two examples as follows:

    1. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus. This does NOT promote the hell”fire” doctrine at all. It showed a change of circumstances between the prestigious religious leaders of Jesus’ day (the rich man) who considered themselves in a high position to the common people (Lazarus group) there. The people were needing to be spiritually fed by the rich man but the rich man fed them nothing but burdensome traditions. Jesus provided the common people with refreshing Bible truths. The bottom line of this parable is that those religious leaders lost their favor with God which brought them much torment, but the common people found favor with God through the spiritual food fed them by Jesus (Luke 16:-19-31) which brought them great joy.

    2. The “lake of fire” referred to at Revelation 19:20, 20:10, 20:14, 20:15 and 21:8 is NOT a literal lake of fire but symbolizes eternal destruction with no hope of resurrection. How can that be?

    Revelation 20:14 brings out that:

    “And death and Hades were hurled into the lake of fire. This means the second death, the lake of fire.”

    How can a “condition of man”, commonly known as death, be thrown into a literal lake? This is not possible, which is why Revelation 21:4 was written for our benefit, we who die:

    “And he (God) will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and DEATH WILL BE NO MORE, neither will mourning not outcry nor pain be any more. The former things have passed away.”

    Therefore, Revelation 20:14 confirms that death will be put to death and no longer exist for mankind. 😀 😀 😀

  • Fran

    Oops, Revelation 21:4 instead of 20:14 in my last paragraph.

  • GraHog

    In 2 years will be 1 in 5