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The government says more Americans are experiencing what it calls food insecurity. That means they dont have enough food or they're making compromises when it comes to what they eat.
A Department of Agriculture report shows that in 2008, nearly one in seven households found itself in that situation, that works out to nearly 50 million people.
Here's NPR's Jeff Brady.
JEFF BRADY: The USDA says this is the highest level of food insecurity since the agency began tracking statistics in 1995, and there's no question that the economy is to blame.
(Soundbite of distribution center)
BRADY: At a distribution center for the Southwestern Virginia Second Harvest Food Bank, this morning workers moved pallets around, as local food pantries dropped by to stock up.
Pam Irvine is the president and CEO. She says demand for emergency food assistance is up 20 to 30 percent over last year.
Ms. PAM IRVINE (President and CEO, Southwestern Virginia Second Harvest Food Bank): There's been some indication or talk about a recovery in the economy. However, we're not seeing that right now. It's going to be a while, I think, before families see that.
BRADY: The grocery chain Kroger just donated about 50 tons of food to Irvine's organization. Jim Cameron of Lake Christian Ministries is among those patiently waiting for his local food bank's allotment.
Mr. JIM CAMERON (Lake Christian Ministries): We are like everybody else. Our numbers are just escalating immensely. We used to figure 20 to 22 clients in a morning was busy. We did 47, I think it was, clients yesterday.
BRADY: At the Northern Arizona Food Bank in Flagstaff, a volunteer opens a paper bag, then clients like single mother Jennifer Dowguy(ph) walk into a noisy cooler to pick out the food they need.
Ms. JENNIFER DOWGUY: Well, right now Im short on money. Im unemployed, looking for work here. And we found out about this program through a friend, so thats the reason why we're here today.
BRADY: Executive Director Kerry Ketchum says this economic downturn is different than most.
Mr. KERRY KETCHUM (Executive Director, Northern Arizona Food Bank): We've seen peaks and valleys in the past for short periods of time. But this is - we're pushing 18 months now of continued increases on a monthly basis as compared to last year.
BRADY: Ketchum says groups like his also have been hit by declines in donations. At the Watts Labor Community Action Committee food pantry in Los Angeles, food is distributed twice a month.
Ms. DEBRA BARRETT(ph): When you can't feed your kids, then you know it's tight.
BRADY: Debra Barrett couldnt wait for the next distribution, so she showed up today.
Ms. BARRETT: I was working and now I've lost my job. You know, I have grandchildren and I have a daughter who's trying to work. And my unemployment is not setting in right now and I need to feed my kids.
BRADY: Organizers at the pantry say they never turn anyone away. In Washington, D.C., Jim Weill heads the Food Research and Action Center. He says the USDA report on food security also shows that while the economy was doing well earlier in the decade, poorer families didnt share in that. Then when the recession came
Mr. JIM WEILL (President, Food Research and Action Center): It just pushed 13 million families over the edge into food insecurity. So thats a measure both of how bad the recession is, but also a measure of how vulnerable their situation was before the recession started.
BRADY: Weill says he hopes lawmakers on Capitol Hill will consider this as they debate funding for things like school lunch and food stamp programs because, he says, these numbers are for 2008. And he predicts next year's report will be even worse.
Jeff Brady, NPR News.
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