Enjoy the Right to Be Free from Hunger

As we celebrate Independence Day with parades and barbecues today, let’s pause for a moment to think about our neighbors who are not able to put enough food on their tables to fully enjoy their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

More than 5,000 residents of Alameda have enough trouble making ends meet that they turn to the Alameda Food Bank every year for help. That’s more than six out of every 100 people living among us on the Island. 

Many of these people are working families caught in the tightening vise of housing costs, leaving them less and less money available for essentials like food and medicine — much less the pursuit of a little happiness. 

While our city and state governments are trying to tame the forces that are driving rents up, the Department of Housing and Urban Development seems determined to make it harder for low income people to qualify for housing assistance. To make matters worse the U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering rule changes that would make it harder for some recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to receive food stamps. 

This is as short-sighted as it is uncharitable. The Department of Agriculture’s own economic research service has shown that providing food stamps to low-income people stimulates the economy in rural areas. SNAP benefits are paid directly to low-income people “who have a high propensity to spend rather than save,” driving demand for food and other goods. In fact, the study showed that every $22,000 spent on food stamps between 2001 and 2014 created one job. 

On a grander scale, well-fed employees are more productive and well-fed students score higher, ultimately contributing to the overall economy as well as the quality of their own lives. A little money spent on food delivers a many-fold return on the investment.

While we can’t control the forces outside of Alameda that are exacerbating the problem, we can do our best to be sure that residents of the Island get enough to eat. With the help of local members of the National Association Letter Carriers and the Alameda Scouts, the food bank collects more than 13 tons of nutritious food annually. 

Our stalwart community partners — Trader Joe’s, Lucky, Safeway, Target, Alameda Farmers’ Market, Crispian Bakery, Bay/Eagle Community Garden, Alameda Backyard Growers and the Alameda County Community Food Bank — keep our shelves stocked with fresh, nutritious food for our clients. And our generous community pulls almost $300,000 out of its collective pockets every year to help us purchase food we need for our clients, getting $7 worth of groceries for every $1 donated.

In its 243 years of existence, this country has risen to become the richest nation the world has ever known. Surely, nobody in America should have to skimp on food to stay on budget. Along with freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom from fear, former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt included freedom from want in his vision for a post-war world. This is a good day to remember that and to recommit to whatever it takes to make that happen.

 

Cindy Houts is the executive director of the Alameda Food Bank.