Traditionally the holiday season brings to the forefront efforts to help those less fortunate.
Community food and clothing drives, volunteering at soup kitchens, special holiday meals, toy collections and help with heating costs are in full swing this time of year.
It is one way we as Americans take care of each other — neighbor to neighbor.
Yet, despite these noble efforts, the most vulnerable in our society continue to struggle, the young, the aged and the dispossessed, those who have fallen on hard times — full-time workers earning minimum wage, the under-employed working multiple part time positions without benefits, the unemployed and the homeless.
Families are struggling in our cities, suburbs and rural areas.
Hunger knows neither geographic boundary nor season.
Fortunately, there is help available 365 days a year through 15 federal nutrition assistance programs funded by the United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. You may know these programs as they are carried out by local partners at the state and community level — in school cafeterias, child and adult care centers, WIC clinics, food banks, soup kitchens and SNAP offices. The programs serve one in four Americans.
These vital food programs have never been more critical. For some children, the meals they eat in the school cafeteria may be the only ones they get. WIC serves more than half of the babies born in the U.S., and SNAP helps families put meals on the table.
As the country continues to climb out of recession, the needs are greater than ever. Last year, Maine received $471 million in federal nutrition assistance. But beyond the numbers, I would ask you to think about what this represents. It’s about helping folks make ends meet and avoiding the choice between paying for heating the home and putting food on the table. For too many in this country, hunger is hidden. But it exists in every corner of the Pine Tree State.
Now more than ever, it’s time to shine a light on hunger throughout the year and work together to put an end to it.
So, what can you do? When you can, donate to your local food bank, volunteer at a soup kitchen, or bring a meal over to a neighbor in need. And be sure they know there may be resources available to help them. But also keep in mind that for all these heroic local efforts, know that every day, government nutrition assistance programs will be operating in every community throughout the country, providing a safety net to those who need a little extra help.
For more information about the federal nutrition programs, go to www.fns.usda.gov.
James Arena-DeRosa is USDA regional administrator for the Food and Nutrition Service.