Many of Maryland's hungry are hidden

Not everyone is looking forward to a gluttonous Turkey dinner this Thanksgiving.

More than 665,000 people in Maryland, or 1 in 9 residents, don’t have enough to eat on any given day, including the most bountiful day of the year. That’s enough people to fill up M&T Bank Stadium — where these families couldn’t afford a hot dog or crab cake — 10 times.

Many groups work tirelessly to fill the hunger gaps families face throughout the year, and organizations like The Maryland Food Bank, Paul’s Place, Bea Gaddy Family Centers and Goodwill will try to feed as many people as they can on Thanksgiving Day. The Maryland Food Bank has already given out 15,000 packed bags of cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing and other fixings that they say will feed 60,000 people as part of its annual “Pack to Give Back” event. The Bea Gaddy organization will serve hundreds of meals at its 37th annual dinner for needy families on Thanksgiving Day.

But while the holiday season is a good time to give thanks and pay it forward, more needs to be done to end hunger in a country filled with so much prosperity and wealth.

Michael J. Wilson, director of Maryland Hunger Solutions, spent one day last week trying to fend off cuts to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. An analysis by research group Mathematica found that provisions in the House Farm Bill would cut $50 to $75 per month in food assistance to as many as 1.1 million families. While that is a pair of shoes or a monthly gym membership for some of us, for a needy family that lives paycheck to paycheck it might mean a parent skipping meals so their children get enough to eat.

Some immigrant families who legally qualify for SNAP, also known as food stamps, are voluntarily dropping out of food assistance program thanks to the anti-immigration sentiment fostered by the Trump administration, some food advocates said. The participation by immigrants in the program dropped by 10 percent in the first half of 2018 after 10 years of increasing participation among immigrants, according to a study by Boston Medical Center’s Children’s HealthWatch. The study included surveys with 35,000 mothers in five cities, including Baltimore. The moms were interviewed in clinics and emergency rooms about their use of food stamps. Only 34.8 percent of families in the U.S. for less than five years that were surveyed got SNAP benefits in the first half of the year.

This could hurt inroads made on curbing food insecurity in immigrant communities. Some of these families are likely turning to non-profits where they will be less scrutinized, but many others may simply be going without, making do with what they can afford.

The Maryland Food Bank is expanding its approach to addressing hunger next year as it celebrates its 40th year feeding families. President and CEO Carmen Del Guercio said the organization wants to address the core social issues, like poverty, that intertwine with hunger problems. Along with a bag of food, the food bank will connect people with wraparound services, such as referring someone to a non-profit that can help them with rent or a clinic that can address their high blood pressure. It’s a strategy many non-profits have taken as they take a holistic approach to helping the less fortunate.

The food bank has also been offering more nutritious food options in recent years, such as fresh produce and high protein staples, rather than starchy or high processed foods that can cause obesity and other problems. The strategy costs more for the food banks, but is worth it to keep families healthy.

And don’t think the hunger problem isn’t so bad now that the economy is doing better and unemployment is low. Maryland’s high cost of living may mean families are putting all their money into housing. Many people have to work more than one job to pay the bills — and still have little leftover for food. Many of those going hungry might be your neighbors or co-workers you think are fine, but who live with empty cupboards and refrigerators. The face of hunger these days may be very well hidden.

So as you enjoy your turkey dinner, remember those who might be going without.

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