- Faith & Family
An additional 2.6 million people slipped into poverty in the U.S. last year, according to a recent Census Bureau report, for a total of 46.2 million people — the highest number in the Bureau’s 52 years of publishing statistics. But the news is not good for the middle class either as median household incomes fell to levels not seen since 1996. Within the last decade, with an overwhelming financial crisis hitting the nation and with an ongoing recession, it’s the middle class and the poor who have suffered most. And despite their efforts, many agencies and governmental departments here in South Florida are finding it more and more difficult to feed the hungry in our community — one that disproportionately shows Blacks, senior citizens and children most in need.
“Our greatest challenge is getting enough food for the growing lines of people,” said Lavern Scott, executive director, Curley’s House of Style/Hope Relief Food bank in Liberty City. “As soon as the food arrives, it goes right out the door. Seniors are coming from everywhere — Meek Manor, New Horizons, Edison Towers, Robert Sharpe and Dos Hostos — from Overtown to Liberty City and everywhere in between — and we can’t keep up. We are even delivering to senior homes now. How do you choose between paying for meds and buying food? Some of our elderly are eating cat and dog food — others without help from agencies like ours are going hungry.”
Scott says her agency, now in its 13th year, is feeding over 4,000 families per month — and climbing.
Deacon Beurie Tullis, 71, who has directed the food ministry at Mt. Tabor Missionary Baptist Church for the past 23 years, says the need is far exceeding the amount of food available.
“We have kids bringing younger kids, their siblings, for hot meals — more than I can remember,” he said. “We feed over 150 people every Sunday morning, 99 percent of them are Black, and for some of them it’s the only hot meal they’ll have all week. Food prices have tripled while funding is drying up. We make it primarily on the the goodwill of our members and a few anonymous donors. And it’s not just the homeless that are hungry — we have a lot of people who come to us who have roofs over their heads but no food in their pantries or refrigerators.”
Experts predict situation will get worse
Lisa Stoch, director of advancement for Feeding South Florida, an agency that’s been feeding the four-county area in South Florida for over 30 years, fears that because of a lagging economy, a new demographic will need help in facing food shortages: the working poor.
“We serve almost 1 million hungry neighbors in the four-county area on an annual basis,” she said. “That increased 30 percent from 2011 to 2012. And in Florida, where wages haven’t kept up with inflation, it’s especially tough on minorities.”
Before the recession, 26 million Americans were on food stamps. Now that number has grown to more than 46 million — or one-in-seven people. Stoch says the misconception is that hunger has a specific face.
“Hunger does not discriminate — it impacts kids to seniors and people of all ethnic groups,” she said. “Hunger is the person sitting next to you on the Metro, it’s someone passing you in a car, it’s a student in a classroom. September is Hunger Action Month in the U.S. and we’re trying to raise funds and awareness. Corporate awareness is a growing trend and at least we’re getting food and volunteers to help us maintain operations. We just delivered 10,000 pounds to one of our locations in Liberty City with help from Save-a-Lot Foods, where the majority of the people had no access to fresh produce.”
Camillus House, founded in 1960, is one of Miami-Dade County’s oldest and continuously operated charities and provides services primarily to the poor and homeless. But as Sam Gil, vice president of marketing and communications says, “hunger and homelessness are two sides of the same coin.”
“About 90 percent of our clients are Black but we are seeing a significant increase in Hispanics now,” Gil said. “People are being forced to make some really tough decisions — feed your kids or be put out on the streets,”
“It’s staggering to realize that here with so many affluent communities, we are feeding over 1 million people each year in South Florida,” Stoch added. “It should be a basic right for every American to be able to go to bed without being hungry.”
“Who would have thought that a country as rich as America would have so many people suffering so severely? Scott asked. “Among the largest cities in the U.S., Miami is the fifth poorest and our congressional district is among the poorest. We’re just prayerful that we can keep our doors open.”
By D. Kevin McNeir