URBANA – About 38.6 million people in America face "food insecurity," an increase of 2 million in one year, a new government report shows.
That means nearly 12 percent of U.S. households make daily decisions on how much they and their children can afford to eat, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service. And the number of households with actual hunger rose from 3.5 percent in 2003 to 3.9 percent in 2004, or 4.4 million.
"That's pretty significant," said James Hires, executive director of the Eastern Illinois Foodbank. "(It) raises the ante in terms of the number of people who are at risk."
The food bank's 19th annual "Food for Families" drive kicked off last weekend, with the goal of raising $50,000 and 150,000 pounds of food for 180 shelters, soup kitchens, food pantries and other programs in its 14-county area. The drive continues through Nov. 12.
The USDA report came out the same day that the House Agricultural Committee voted to cut food stamp allocations next year, Hires noted. Local hunger statistics mirror national figures, with one in eight people "food insecure" in East Central Illinois, he said.
"They have to make a choice every day on how they're going to spend their money – on food, transportation, or heating costs," he said.
He expects even longer lines at food pantries this winter as a result of higher gas prices and rising energy costs.
"It looks like it could be a very long winter for a lot of people. It's probably going to put a strain on all the food bank's resources," he said. "We'll do our best to meet the need."
The Food for Families drive is important because it comes at the start of the season, he said. So far donations have gone "quite well."
Hires thinks donors have been affected by images of hurricane victims in recent months.
"Katrina and Rita pointed out the extent of poverty across the country," he said. "Our communities do get it, and we hope that they continue to support us."
Every dollar donated can generate $10 worth of food, he said. The food bank gets free or deeply discounted food from a national network but needs money to cover shipping and handling costs.
Corporate sponsors for the Food for Families drive include AAA Radio Entertainment Group, Adams Outdoor Advertising, First Mid-Illinois Bank and Trust, Carle Foundation Hospital, Carle Clinic Association, Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District, Jerry's IGA Markets, The News-Gazette, Schnucks Supermarkets, Up Close Marketing and Publishing, and WCIA.
How the public can donate to Eastern Illinois Foodbank's Food for Families
– Buy and donate canned, packaged or bottled food at participating grocery stores with drop boxes:
County Market in Champaign and Urbana.
Jerry's IGA in Champaign,
Schnucks in Champaign and Urbana.
Wal-Mart in Champaign and Savoy.
IGA Foodliner in Mahomet, Rantoul, St. Joseph, Monticello and Tuscola.
– Bring nonperishable foods to local public and private schools, businesses and community service organizations sponsoring food drives.
– Give to the "virtual food drive" at www.eifoodbank.org