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Hunger knows no season

by Keith Barber

In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, two portly gentlemen come knocking on the door of Scrooge & Marley on Christmas Eve. The businessmen explain to Ebenezer Scrooge that they are endeavoring to raise a fund on behalf of those less fortunate. At this festive time of year, the gentlemen explain, it’s desirable to make some slight provision for the poor, and Christmas Eve seems to be the most appropriate time to collect donations. Scrooge scowls and pledges nothing, saying that he doesn’t make merry at Christmas himself and can’t afford to ease the burdens of idle people. As fans of the classic Dickens tale are aware, Scrooge learns the error of his ways after an unforgettable night and ultimately pledges a tidy sum to the charity before story’s end.

The needs of the poor in Dickens’ London of 1843 are equally matched in our own community in 2009. Last year’s meltdown of our financial systems has led to layoffs of hundreds of hard-working citizens. Those of us who have means should pause this holiday season and remember Scrooge’s transformation and the wisdom of A Christmas Carol. Give whatever you can to one or more of the hundreds of social service agencies in our community. If you are strapped for cash, volunteer your time. If you don’t have time, donate generously to one or more of the many social service agencies that literally hold our society together.

I encourage volunteerism because the only way to understand the greatly increased needs of our fellow citizens is to see it first hand. Need has risen exponentially this year, especially when it comes to food. The numbers are staggering. Clyde Fitzgerald, executive director of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina, said there has been a 75 percent increase in the demand for food since 2008, which means more children are going hungry on a daily basis.

The 18 counties served by Second Harvest have been some of the counties hardest hit by the recession and the loss of manufacturing jobs. In Forsyth and Guilford counties, the two most affluent counties served by the nonprofit, scarcity of food is becoming more dire with each passing day. Last year, one out of every 12 people in the Piedmont Triad needed food assistance. This year, one out of every 7 people in Forsyth and Guilford counties is requesting food assistance.

“Our 400 partner agencies tell us that right now, this Christmas, our agencies are serving over 100,000 people more than they did in 2008,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s the serious and urgent problem of hunger that goes on in this area.”

Samaritan Ministries in Winston-Salem is one of Second Harvest’s partner agencies. The problem of hunger in the area can be seen daily in the length of the queues outside Samaritan’s facility on Patterson Avenue, said the nonprofit’s executive director Sonija Kurosky.

“We’reseeing a lot of new faces in the soup kitchen,” Kurosky said. “Peopleare bringing their families. Food shortage is a big issue. Homelessnessis always an issue but we’re seeing that hunger is on the increase.”

Kuroskysaid Samaritan expects to serve an additional 10,000 lunches this yearversus last year. That number is even more dramatic when one considersthe nonprofit served nearly 160,000 hot lunches in 2008.

SecondHarvest is distributing 19 to 20 tons of food a day to agencies likeSamaritan but it’s simply not enough to meet the demand out there.

Fitzgeraldpointed out that North Carolina and Louisiana led the nation inpercentage of young children who suffer from hunger. And this statisticwas a real eye-opener: one out of four children ages 0 to 5 goes hungryin North Carolina. For Fitzgerald, that is simply unacceptable. Despitethe enormity of the problem, Fitzgerald firmly believes that hunger canbe eradicated.

“Therewill always be the poor among us but there should not be the hungryamong us,” he said. “We’re trying to eliminate hunger for children.We’re contributing more food than we ever have before and it’s notnearly enough.”

Tohelp keep the shelves of Second Harvest fully stocked, Fitzgeraldspearheads dozens of food drives across the Piedmont Triad, many ofwhich coincide with the holiday season.

“Thisis a time of year where people reflect on blessings in their life andperhaps become a bit more motivated to help others, but we do it everymonth of the year,” he said. “Hunger doesn’t take a holiday. We willhave more people hungry the first week in January than in the last weekof December.”

Fitzgerald’sdream is to one day close the doors of Second Harvest because that willmean every man, woman and child in northwest North Carolina will haveenough food to live on. But until that day comes, Fitzgerald willcontinue to answer a personal calling to help those less fortunate.

“Mylife has been blessed and I haven’t had to deal with the obstacles thatmany people in this area have had to deal with,” he said. “I’mcommitted to people getting nutritious food so people can not onlysurvive but thrive. There are a lot of problems in the world, buthunger is a solvable problem.”

Fitzgerald is right. Hunger is a solvable problem, and the answer begins with each of each and every one of us.

To learn more about Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina or to donate, visit www.hungernwnc.org.

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