By Michelle McGinley
Hot turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, cranberries and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Many of us can already taste the delicious holiday fare. However, for the 48.8 million Americans who live in food-insecure households, the vision of home-cooked meals during the holidays is more of a wish than a reality.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food insecurity is defined as, "limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods." Of these 48.8 million Americans, one third of them are children. While hunger is a serious issue no matter the age of those affected, the long-term consequences of malnourished children are even more severe than in adults. According to a study at Tufts University, malnourished children have significantly delayed brain development and cognitive function and perform lower on standardized tests.
Children who are food insecure have to eat what is available out of necessity, with that often being a high-calorie, low-nutrient-dense diet that is a major cause of obesity and can cause intellectual impairment. These less expensive foods are frequently the default option for those shopping on a limited budget.
A survey by the University of Washington found that per 1,000 calories, high energy, low-nutrient-dense foods cost $1.76 whereas nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits and vegetables, cost $18.16. This means that a typical "junk-food" diet for one day would cost $3.52, which is more manageable for a financially-limited household than spending $36.32 on healthier foods.
Fortunately, many agencies like Crisis Ministries, Helping Hands of Goose Creek, East Cooper Community Outreach and the Lowcountry Food Bank help decrease the amount of hunger in the community. With the economic recession, more families are relying on these programs.
From 2006 to 2010, the estimated number of people served by the Lowcountry Food Bank alone increased 25 percent, and now serves more than 190,000 people annually. According to the Hunger in America 2010 report, agencies that distribute food to patrons "who 'sometimes or always' had to reduce distribution due to lack of food" doubled from 11 percent in 2006 to 22 percent in 2010. This increase in the need for food translates into a need for more people to donate to relief organizations.
Helping out these causes is simple. You can volunteer on your own or gather your family, friends, and co-workers to donate money or food, coordinate food drives or attend events that raise money for hunger programs.
For information on how to get involved, visit http://www.Crisisministries.org, http://www.Helpinghandsofgoosecreek.net, http://www.ECCOcharleston.org or http://www.Lowcountryfoodbank.org.