... While in America, the Hungry Poor Swell Queues for Charity Food

By Dejevsky, Mary | The Independent (London, England), January 6, 1998 | Go to article overview
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... While in America, the Hungry Poor Swell Queues for Charity Food


Dejevsky, Mary, The Independent (London, England)


Even the sharpest critics of welfare reform in the United States have been forced to acknowledge its benefits. The number of claimants has fallen, while predictions of increased destitution have not been borne out - or have they? Mary Dejevsky weighs the evidence.

Throughout the Western world, the Christmas season is a time for charities to draw attention to the plight of the poor and hungry - and so they did in the United States. That Second Harvest, the biggest food charity in the US, should have released its findings now, rather than a month ago, however, suggests that concern, rather than fund-raising, is its prime motive.

Its preliminary findings have surprised charity workers. According to Second Harvest, which co-ordinates the distribution of more than $1bn of donated food annually, demand rose last year by 14 per cent on average, and by up to 50 per cent in some places. Donations fell. "People come to us because their cupboards are bare," said Sister Christine Vladimiroff, a Benedictine nun who runs the Chicago-based charity. "We don't want to have to say, 'Well, ours is, too'." A survey of 29 cities for the US Conference of Mayors reported last month that requests for emergency food had risen by an average of 16 per cent in the year to June 1997, the largest increase registered for five years. It found that almost 20 per cent of applicants were turned away, and that in half the cities surveyed, food donations fell short of what was needed. Similar reports have come in from cities all over the US. The New York City council is considering a $2m (pounds 1.2m) increase in its subsidy to city food banks, to cover the rise in demand and fall in donations. From Massachusetts, the Salvation Army reported a 62 per cent increase in demand for its services. Some 14 per cent of the population of the state, one of the richest in the US, were recorded as visiting food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters. Some blame the increase in appeals for food directly on welfare cuts in eligibility for food stamps, the main means of state assistance to the poor.

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