Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

The Ranks of the Working Poor Are Growing in Jax

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

The Ranks of the Working Poor Are Growing in Jax

Article excerpt

Byline: Tonyaa Weathersbee, Times-Union columnist

I was driving west on Adams Street last Tuesday when I spied something that caused me to miss my usual detour.

At the Salvation Army's Red Shield Lodge, a line of people literally coiled around the building.

True, it was Thanksgiving basket day. Yet what struck me most is that many of the people weren't dressed poorly, nor looked needy otherwise. But there they were, bracing themselves against stares from motorists and chilly midday winds to sign up for food.

I had never seen anything like it.

Yet, I knew that many of those faces weren't the faces of the greedy, but the faces of the fearful. Some of those faces were the faces of working people who are so strapped by housing, health care and other living expenses that nowadays, ensuring that they won't run out of food no longer means a trip to the supermarket, but a wait in a charity line. Or at a food bank.

They are showing up everywhere.

Paul Stasi, director of social services for the Salvation Army here, said a line that long wasn't unusual for Thanksgiving. But throughout the year, he said, the Salvation Army is feeding more working poor people. Jucoby Pittman, executive director of the Clara White Mission, said that the number of free meals the mission feeds people has increased from a maximum of 275 a day two years ago to 550 a day. And Tim Davis, director of Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Florida, said they are seeing anywhere from 22 percent to 27 percent increases in requests for emergency food help from the agencies they serve.

And lest anyone think that Pittman and Davis are exaggerating, there's plenty of proof to show that they aren't.

According to the U.S. Agriculture Department, the number of "food insecure" households increased from 10.5 million in 1999 to 12.1 million in 2002. The U.S. Conference of Mayors recently found that requests for food aid had increased by 20 percent in many cities. Nearly 35 million people, or 12.5 percent of all Americans, are food insecure.

When a household is food insecure, it means that they are so limited in resources to buy food that they are either running out of food, or reducing the quality of food their family eats, or feeding their family unbalanced diets or skipping meals so that their children can eat. …

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