Thanksgiving Dinner
Credit: Flicker User: Marcus Q

For many families, overeating is part of a Thanksgiving tradition. Magazines are full of recipes for elaborate holiday meals, ranging from the traditional turkey and mashed potatoes to carrot casseroles and jicama salads. Meanwhile, there are tips on inconspicuous ways to loosen your belt at the dinner table available on the Internet.

But overeating is not part of everyone’s holiday tradition. This year, more families than ever are likely to go hungry over the holiday season. These families have needed to turn to soup kitchens, food pantries, and soup kitchens to make sure that they have enough to eat. With higher demand and decreased donations, these soup kitchens and food pantries are struggling to meet the need for food over the holiday season.

Who goes hungry?

Food prices have skyrocketed over the past few years. Fresh fruit and vegetables can cost up to 25 percent more than they did just a few years ago. Meat, eggs, and milk have doubled in price.  Most families — four in five of us — earn enough to afford food throughout the year. The rest turn to food stamps, food banks, and soup kitchens to feed themselves.

These people are all around us, but hunger does not always come with a neon sign. The people most likely to go hungry are seniors, people who have gotten laid off or are looking for work, and families with young children.

About fifteen percent of families need help getting enough food each year. These families get help through:

  • Free lunch programs for kids in schools
  • Food stamps
  • Soup kitchens
  • Food pantries

More people are using these resources. In San Francisco, soup kitchens have been feeding about 200 more people every day this month than they usually do. Donations to soup kitchens and food banks are lower than usual, and food banks are still looking for thousands of turkeys for Thanksgiving meals.

Why is this year worse than usual?

The job market is one of the biggest obstacles. The long recession means that many people have been out of work, and have been unemployed for longer. Over the past five years, families have used up savings to make ends meet. Emergencies like a broken down car or a trip to the ER eat into money that families could otherwise use for food.

Food stamp cuts are also to blame. Just this month, food stamp benefits were cut for 47 million families. Over the past few years, the federal government has put extra money into the food stamp budget because of high unemployment. This extra funding ended on November 4. The lost benefits are the equivalent of about 21 meals per month for a family of four — or five days without food.

How can you help?

Food Pantry Donation Suggestions
Credit: Flickr User: Salvation Army USA West

Soup kitchens and food pantries are trying to make up the difference caused by the food stamp cuts, but have not been able to keep up with the demand. If you are looking for a way to make a difference this holiday season, donating food or time to your local food bank is a great way to make a difference.

If you want to donate food, look for nutritious, non-perishable food items. Canned fruits and vegetables, whole grain rice and pasta, and canned tuna, chicken, and chili are nutritious options.

Many food pantries and soup kitchens are in need of volunteers as well. You can volunteer as an individual — most soup kitchens and food pantries are more than happy to show you what to do. Over the holidays, families often make volunteering part of their Thanksgiving or Christmas traditions.