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ORANGE COUNTY COMMENTARY

We Have the Resources to End Hunger

November 17, 2002|Tom Seeberg | Tom Seeberg is director of Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County

We have a problem in Orange County. It's one that can be solved. The question is, what are we going to do about it?

It isn't new, but most of us turn our heads in disbelief when we hear about it. How can we have people going hungry in one of the most affluent communities in the country?

The late psychologist Abraham Maslow, who created the now-famous "Hierarchy of Needs," ranked hunger in the bedrock of a five-tier pyramid that includes physiological needs, safety needs, belonging needs, esteem needs and self-actualization.

Hunger has no face, at least not one you could pick out of a crowd, yet it's a major problem. It continues to grow in record proportions. The usual perception of the hungry in many people's minds is a population of illegal immigrants or people too lazy to work. That's simply not the case.

For the most part, we're talking about the working poor. They have jobs that pay minimal wages. They are probably living in apartments or homes, but the rent or mortgage expenses are almost prohibitive. So we do have neighbors who are at risk of missing meals sometime each month.

This is where Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County enters the picture. The food bank helps to provide nutritious food through 386 local member charities.

For the statistically inclined, the 2000 Census estimated that 450,000 people in Orange County, roughly 16% of the overall population, falls into this category. And more than 40% of those going hungry are children.

According to county surveys of shelters and agencies that assist the needy, 23,000 people have no home to sleep in each night in this relatively wealthy community of ours. That number has grown by 17% from a year ago and up more than 100% over the past five years.

The tragedy of Sept. 11 compounded the problem. Since then, the unemployment rate has climbed from 4.9% to 5.9%. Thirty-three states reported massive layoffs as a result of the attacks. A total of 56% of those cuts came from five states -- including California.

Despite these alarming figures, our society still places a higher priority on tourism, building performing art centers, restoring historic buildings, projects that have an impact on traffic and the like. But when it comes to one of our most basic needs -- food -- we often turn a blind eye.

Working in an outdated facility and in dire need of a larger site, the food bank nonetheless managed to set a record by distributing more than 15 million pounds of food during our 2001-02 fiscal year.

While the figures may sound impressive, we are still unable to meet the needs of even half of the at-risk population. At the same time, an estimated 2.5 million pounds of food are wasted every month in Orange County.

What does all this mean? As the holiday season begins, wouldn't it be wonderful if each of us refocused our priorities to include digging in and doing something about our backyard problem?

How can you help?

The answers are simple.

Donate food.

Donate money.

Volunteer. Call (714) 771-1343, e-mail give@FeedOC.org or visit www.FeedOC.org to learn more.

Eliminating hunger in Orange County is possible, but only if each of us accepts the challenge and makes it a priority.

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