Monday, November 30, 2009

NYTimes: Food Stamp Use Surges As Stigma Fades

The New York Times this weekend published an extensive expose on the rising rate of food stamp use across the country, and datelined the story from Martinsville, Ohio, just minutes down the road from Wilmington. The story, written by Jason DeParle and photographed by Robert Gebeloff, features some stark statistics: nearly one in eight Americans and one in four children-- 36 million Americans, in total-- relies on the federal benefits to put food on their table, and that number continues to balloon. An unprecedented number of Americans-- about 20,000 -- become eligible every day for the benefits.

To a lot of us here in Clinton County, and to hundreds of other economically depressed communities in the U.S., none of this is news. We've seen and experienced first-hand the drought in community resources, the growing lines at food banks, and the changing face of poverty. In fact, we've been expecting it. We've long realized that severance packages will only last so long, and the true repercussions of DHL's departure haven't fully materialized. In short, the need will continue to grow, and the face on the other end of the food stamp transaction will continue to change. That is undeniably the most important aspect of DeParle's article: the face of the food stamp recipient is changing, and the stigma that plagues assistance benefits is starting to fade.

But not everything is doom and gloom. We're fortunate to be in a community that is committed to seeking viable solutions to these problems, and as a community we can collect and share our resources to broaden our outreach capacity. At Grow Food, Grow Hope, when we hear about the rapidly growing number of food stamp recipients, we see an increased number of people who would benefit from EBT transactions at the Clinton County Farmers' Market. When we see the lines outside our area food banks double or triple in length, we see twice as many people who would benefit from our fresh food donations. When we hear about community resources exhausted and local benefits stretched thin, we see potential families who would benefit from our community garden or our backyard garden project. When we see a need, we visualize a response, and that response is increasing our community's access to fresh and nutritious food. That, after all, is our underlying mission.

We can be sure that the statistics and numbers that frame poverty in our country will continue to worsen, at least in the near future. But we can also be sure that, as a community, we are committed to addressing the problem, and, as a community, we are working toward that end.

You can read the full New York Times article here, view a slideshow that accompanies the story here, and view an interactive map of food stamp recipients around the country here.

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