Imagine being employed full-time and still not being able to make ends meet. Imagine having to choose between buying food and paying for heat in the winter or fuel to get to your job. Imagine skipping meals just to make what little food you have stretch.
For too many Central New Yorkers, that's a reality. According to a 2006 study commissioned by the Food Bank of Central New York, more people than ever before are receiving emergency food assistance from the organization's programs in the 11 counties it serves. Some 75 percent of food pantries have seen an increase in their number of clients in the last four years.
It's a devastating trifecta that drives people, even those who are gainfully employed, to seek emergency food assistance: low and stagnant wages, rising costs of energy, housing and child care and shrinking health coverage by employers. All of those factors combine to leave less money in people's pockets, resulting in tough choices and, all too often, hunger.
"The fact that so many working people still have to go to a soup kitchen or food pantry to make ends meet shows there's something structurally wrong with the economy," said Thomas Slater, executive director of the Food Bank of Central New York, which provides almost 7.5 million meals a year. "If you work, you should be able to provide enough for your family. But we see that the jobs being created do not provide salaries that keep families out of the food lines. It is a tragedy to see more and more people relying on emergency food assistance in a country of such wealth."
Serving the suburbs
As the need grows, more and more organizations are stepping up to fill the gaps. In the state of New York alone, there are more than 3,000 soup kitchens, food pantries and shelters. Here in Onondaga County, there are 90 food pantries, the majority of which work through the Interreligious Food Consortium of Central New York.