By Kimberly Schupp - email
PERRYVILLE, MO (RNN) - While millions of Americans will sit down Thursday to one of the most lavish meals they'll enjoy all year, another segment of the U.S. is probably hiding a painful secret.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has reported that as many as 45 million Americans are "food insecure." That's about 17 percent of the U.S. population, up from 14.7 percent in 2009.
"In a struggling economy there are obviously more people having a hard time," said Jean Daniel, a spokeswoman for The Food Nutrition Service. "Parents will go to extraordinary lengths to shield their children from hunger."
Food insecurity refers to a family's difficulty in feeding one or more members due to lack of resources. Sometimes that means not having enough money to buy food, or running out of money before more food can be purchased.
These issues have caused affected households to eat much less than usual or to adjust eating patterns.
It's a growing problem.
Although the number of Americans dealing with hunger has stayed level since last year, the USDA indicates that numbers are as high as they have ever been in the past 15 years.
Programs like community food pantries can help supply groceries and assistance to families in need, especially with the holidays approaching.
"On average we feed about 400 to 500 people a month," said Donna Semsrott, president of Ladies of Charity Food Bank in Perryville, MO.
Besides offering two bags of groceries to the needy, the charity's Share the Harvest program has taken a unique approach to meeting needs. They collect and share deer meat donated by local hunters.
"We normally don't get meat, and this program helps out tremendously," Semsrott said. "Usually all the meat is gone by March. Last year we got over 2,500 pounds."
Stonie's Sausage Shop in Perryville is the local drop-off point for the deer. They are in charge of skinning, grinding, packaging and freezing it before sending it off to the food pantry.
"It's always been a good idea. It's feeding the hungry, and is a huge benefit for some people," said owner Roger Wibbenmeyer. "Obviously, if the pantry uses that much meat in that short of time, it's a big deal."
Last year the sausage shop received 92 whole deer, and this year they expect 100 or more.
"The pantry can never have too much, they always use it," Wibbenmeyer said. "It's a really good, needed program."
Nutrition assistance programs also are available to fill the need, although many potential clients are reluctant to take advantage of them.
Most of those classified as "food insecure" are eligible to receive benefits from the federal government, with programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program, helps people with low income and limited resources to buy food they need for good health.
"These are nutrition programs, not welfare programs, which a lot of participants don't understand," Daniel said. "There is a record-high participation, but only 67 percent of [eligible] families participate. I think a lot of people feel they don't want to look poor by getting assistance."