Hunger in America, Visible if You Look for It
Making things 'look good' while ignoring true needs. the bureaucrats changed the official label to "food insecurity." It means not knowing where the next meal is coming from. This article makes the important point that poverty has dropped from the national discourse. Ask yourself when Barack Obama or Arne Duncan talked about the children of poverty in our public schools.
By James Warren
The growing army of hidden hungry is such that you may miss them, indistinguishable from other commuters on a well-lit el platform.
I thought about that after Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Forrest Claypool, head of the Chicago Transit Authority, on Tuesday unveiled a $25 million touch-up to improve the look, feel and safety of stations at a time when there is little money for the central problems of aging tracks, century-old maintenance facilities, subpar power stations and poor signaling equipment.
The Missile's made-for-TV stagecraft at the Logan Square Blue Line stop heralded a smartly-done renovation now planned for 100 stations. But the system's true capital needs are $10 billion, with an estimated $4.5 billion alone needed for the Red Line, during a time of declining funding from Springfield and Washington and as many are blind to mass transit's link to economic and cultural vitality.
By coincidence, later on Tuesday I met Rector Bonnie Perry of All Saints Episcopal Church on the North Side for coffee. The church is a few blocks from the Missile's home and runs a food pantry on Tuesday evenings.
By 4 p.m., or 90 minutes before opening, 38 people were already lined up outside and 20 more were in the nave. Two weeks earlier, the pantry cooked meals for and gave out food to 406 people, a record.
Those in line constituted a diverse group racially and ethnically, mostly in their 50s and older. Most live within a half-mile of the church, itself a stoneĂ˘€™s throw from million-dollar homes.
"You could be on the el with any of them and just not know," Ms. Perry said of the disarmingly well-dressed group of pantry patrons.
Tom West, 45, said, "This is a necessity," as he stood on a line the likes of which nationwide have not inspired either collective attention or concern.
Mr. West is a high school graduate and former hospital food services worker on disability. His rent is $415 a month, and he collects just under $1,200 a month in disability and food stamps.
He personifies the sobering if bloodless figures released Wednesday by the Greater Chicago Food Depository, which in the past year has seen 5.1 million visits to the 650 pantries, soup kitchens and shelters it assists in Cook County. That's a 60 percent increase since 2008, and staff members are stunned by what has played out.
The food depository crunched 2009 census and Department of Agriculture data to discern "food insecurity," essentially poor access to food or a decent diet, or not knowing where a next meal will come from.
The depository broke down figures for every city neighborhood and for suburban Cook County. As sky-high as the city numbers are, the surprises are in the suburbs. About 11 percent of people in LaGrange are hungry or ill-fed, while the figure is 15 percent in Elmwood Park, 6 percent in Burr Ridge, 14 percent in Wheeling and 5 percent even in posh Kenilworth, among others.
The complex subject of hunger was addressed at a daylong forum at the food depository's facility near Midway Airport, where a 270,000-square-foot warehouse holds as much as 14 million pounds of food, one-fourth from the federal government.
At a session moderated by Carol Marin, the journalist, experts voiced frustration over a lack of public discussion on hunger, as well as poor communications and ineffective mobilization by advocates.
"Poverty has dropped out of public discourse for about a decade," said Charles Payne Jr., an expert in social services and urban education at the University of Chicago.
The tricky connections among hunger, poor performance in school, violence, social pathologies and access to healthy food all came up, and hunger apparently is most sensitive to changes in employment.
As I listened, I flashed back to both the line of quietly desperate clients at All Saints and to the spruced-up Logan Square el station.
The pantry provides stop-gap calories for clients who symbolize the isolation of those at the bottom of the pecking order. But it also suggests the lack of will of those at the top and the forgetfulness of most in the middle.
We ignore the hungry like we ignore our decaying rail lines. You might think about both next time youĂ˘€™re on an el or a bus and look around at folks who look just like you --but perhaps aren't.
James Warren writes a column for the Chicago News Cooperative.
New York Times