Steve Shenk

One of the most iconic images from the Great Depression are those of down-and-out men, women, and children standing and waiting patiently in breadlines for a meager meal that was meant to provide just enough to get them through to the next day. Their forelorn looks of helplessness are etched in all of our minds and for those who endured the experience it is something they never hope to relive again.

Unfortunately, a new generation of families is finding it necessary to turn to food banks for help. The surprising thing now is that gone are the scruffy and emaciated faces of the Great Depression. In fact, food banks are seeing more and more families that look exactly like the neighbors next door. Food banks across the country are seeing “middle-class” families coming through their doors in need of food because they are unable to make ends meet. As a result of the middle-class joining the poor as they walk through the doors of America’s food banks, a greater demand is needed for their services and in many instances, the demand is so high, food banks are running out of food.

From the price of gasoline to the cost of food at the grocery store, prices have been increasing exponentially. As prices continune to run unabated, families are having to sit down and decide whether to eat or keep a roof over their heads. Many families are running out of unemployment benefits or exhausted their savings–contributing further to the crisis.

For the middle-class, many never imagined they would be in this situation and need a helping hand. For many it has become an extremely humbling situation. Men and women who have always thought of themselves as hard working and resourceful individuals–and who still are–are being faced with a stark reality that things don’t always work out like you thought they would.

This middle-class group is put into a unique situation too because of their hard work. Often these individuals are not eligible for government assistance because they have a home or other assets. It is very disheartening when you stop to realize that it is the taxes from their years of hard work which have been used to help fund the government assistance programs in the first place. When they need it the most, it is not there for them.

Another contributing factor to food banks not being able to keep their shelves full is that donations are down for the very same reasons that people are frequenting food banks. People can’t give when they are in need of all they have. A very delicate tipping point is being created between those that are barely able to get by without assistance and those that desperately need it.

Food banks across the country are seeing spikes in usage anywhere from 25% to as much as 40%. And the crowds are not letting up. The “safety-nets” that were put in place to help those in need in this type of situation are failing.

So what can you do? As it turns out, quite a lot.

First, take an honest and accurate inventory of your food situation. How long would you be able to keep going if you didn’t have enough money to buy food? A few months? A few weeks? A day? Knowing where you stand can help you create a plan. It is far better to know your situation now than after an unexpected medical bill or pink slip shows up. From there, you can set goals for yourself to keep your own “food bank” well stocked so you won’t need to use your local food bank.

Finally, with the needs of you and your family taken care of, you will be in a situation to donate to your local food bank and help those that are unable to help themselves.

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