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Hunger is not just present in Georgia, it is now prevalent. New county by county data released Monday by Feeding America reveals that almost 2 million Georgians are food insecure – meaning that at some point in the year they do not have access to enough nutritious food to live a healthy, productive lifestyle. That’s 20% of our neighbors, coworkers, congregants, family and friends who regularly face the uncertainty of knowing where their next meal will come from.
That uncertainty plays itself out with a severity that ranges from having to make the hard choice to sacrifice the quality of food you serve your family in order to ensure that they get enough calories, all the way to going consecutive days without eating. In each case and at all points in between, 1 in 5 Georgians must regularly make choices between the necessities of providing for themselves and their families: food or medicine, food or utilities, food or mortgage payment. As always, those most affected in these circumstances are the most vulnerable members of our community – our children, our grandparents, our neighbors living with disabilities, and our veterans transitioning back to life within our communities.
When I look at the data, two things jump out to me. Almost half of those 2 million Georgians (912,000) live in the 29 counties served by the Atlanta Community Food Bank, and make no mistake that hunger touches each of our communities. It is present in the urban heart of Fulton and DeKalb Counties, along the suburban cul-de-sacs of Gwinnett County and scattered across the rural by-ways of Union County. Hunger in Georgia does not discriminate by geography, ethnicity, age or creed. It is an equal opportunity oppressor. If hunger were a virus, the Georgia Department of Health would have long ago declared an epidemic.
Second, what may seem at first glance to be a contradiction – hunger is increasingly indiscriminate about income. According to the data released yesterday 42% of food insecure Georgians live in households with income above 185% of the federal poverty line ($43,568 for a family of four). For years poverty and hunger were generally considered to be synonymous, two sides of the same coin of misfortune. However, the Great Recession hyper-accelerated a growing trend over the last decade in which families living above the poverty line on paper are increasingly living below the poverty line on their dinner tables. While an annual household income below the poverty level ($23,550 for a family of four) still puts you at greatest risk for food insecurity, the economic challenges of the last 5 years – one part housing crisis, one part rising healthcare costs, and one part underemployment – have created an environment in which hunger can thrive in the midst of apparent plenty.
However, as troubling as they are, these numbers and the reality that they illustrate don’t tell the full story of our communities. We cannot ignore the urgency of hunger in Georgia, and make no mistake, when 700,000 of our children do not know where their next meal will come from we have a problem that needs an urgent response. In formulating that response, our communities have an abundance of resources to draw upon – we do not have to respond out of scarcity.
The question of how we will respond to hunger is ultimately this: What type of community do we want to live in? Communities that choose to know and care for their neighbors, that recognize the value and gifts of all members and are shaped by the compassion of hospitality, create an environment in which hunger cannot thrive. Our network of 600 partners will continue to daily, weekly and monthly respond to the emergency food needs of hungry people in our communities. I challenge each of us to wrestle with the present reality of hunger in our communities and make a choice about what we would like our community to look like in the future.
What would it look like for you to begin making choices that create a community in which the seeds of hunger cannot grow? Let’s encourage each other to make those audacious choices - share one example with us in the comments so that we can learn from each other.