End Hunger Study

A periodic national survey of America's poor shows that more that 25 million Americans get emergency food assistance each year. In Houston, the survey shows about half a million people need help getting food, and it has some surprising findings about who those people are. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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This study, which is done every four years, shows that nationally, people in at least 13 and a half million households don't know where their next meal is coming from. Brian Greene of the Houston Food Bank says almost 500 thousand people in the Houston area don't get enough to eat, and you would be surprised to know who those people are.

"47 percent of the households are working households. At least one of the adults in the household has a job. And when you think about the public's picture of hunger, that really contrasts. 47 percent of these people are actually working households. What's going on here?"

Greene says it's clear that Houston has a large number of people known as "working poor", people with jobs, who often have to choose between buying food or other necessities.

"43 percent had to choose between food and rent or a mortgage payment. 37 percent had to choose between food and medicine, particularly a big concern with so many of the people we serve are elderly clients, where you're talking about medical needs. They've gotta pay for medicine and it's expensive stuff. You've got your choice, food or medicine."

Greene says hundreds of thousands of people in Houston live at or below the poverty level, and they often have to turn to food banks and food pantries to put food on their tables. He says the study also shatters the popular belief that most people who go hungry are homeless.

"The majority of the people they're in a house. It's only about 15 percent of the people that we serve that are homeless. You know these are people that are in a house, they're your neighbors, they look like you, they're walking around, but they've got financial needs that the rest of us thank gosh we don't have to deal with those things because this is what's driving hunger for them. "

In fact, 85 percent of people who need food assistance own or rent their homes. David Davenport of the Houston End Hunger Network says this country wastes 96 billion pounds of food every year, and we must find ways to get that food to people who need it.

"We produce food better than any other nation ever in the history of mankind, but we have a challenge getting food from point A to point B. We have a saying at End Hunger Network, and we say this quite a bit. People are hungry, we have enough food, what's the problem?"

Davenport says people may not be able to do much about the forces that put them at the bottom of the economic ladder, but society can keep them from going hungry. You can read the full study on Hunger in America on our website KUHF dot ORG. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.