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As We Celebrate Thanksgiving, Many Still Go Hungry

Among the people shopping at the pantry last week were

A nervous couple, ages 62 and 65, who came from Peru three months ago. They are living with the wife’s sister in Queens, but now their money is running out, and neither one has found a job yet.

Felix, 53, and his cousin Rose, 47, drive from Pennsylvania once a month on a food run. They go to the WSCAH pantry to pick up food for Rose’s sister who is disabled, her parents and their grandmother. Felix works on and off. Rent is expensive, he said, “but I’ll survive.”

Asia, 61, works as a home health aide eight hours a day, seven days a week for two different employers. Sixteen years ago she immigrated from the Dominican Republic. Ortiz shares her Bronx apartment with her ex-husband and her unmarried daughter.

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Felix and Asia at the WSCAH pantry.

Goddard Riverside volunteers prepare more than 600 Home Delivered Meals a day in the new kitchen. They cook and pack the meals so that other volunteers may deliver them to low-income, homebound seniors. The delivery person is often their only social contact, and many look forward to seeing another person.

I delivered a meal to James Goodyer, 81, who lives in an SRO (single room occupancy), not far from some of the priciest real estate in the city. Goodyer lives in a tiny space taken up mostly by his bed and a dresser. Curved and hardly more substantial than a hairpin, his body belies the man he once was. He told me that he used to work on The Street. “One Wall Street, that’s O-N-E, in investment banking.” (I would have liked to trace his trajectory from Wall Street to an SRO.) “My associates are all gone,” he said. He has no family left. “I had a life.” When I told him that I was writing for Women’s Voices for Change, he rejoined, “God knows we need change. Especially women’s voices,” he added.

Ten percent of seniors live in poverty, and it is projected that by 2025 the Baby Boomers will have swelled their ranks by 50 percent. Many have to make difficult choices because their fixed incomes aren’t enough to pay the rent, buy their medicines and eat regularly as well. Some have the resources to cover these necessities but they can’t shop for food or prepare it because they lack transportation or have disabilities that limit their mobility. They often have chronic health issues, like diabetes and high blood pressure. Seniors are much more likely to be depressed, develop asthma or have a heart attack.

Hunger lurks on farms as well as cities. According to the USDA, one in 10 rural households faces hunger every day. Children, as always, are disproportionately affected: 26 percent of rural children live in poverty.

Soup kitchens cater mostly to the homeless. Next door to St. Paul and St. Andrew is St. Ignatius. The line of hungry people waiting for a paper bag packed with ready-to-eat food stretches around the block. In Chelsea, the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen offers 1,000 hot meals a day and a seat at a table, providing an opportunity to socialize and eat family style.

Food insecurity harms everyone. Children who don’t eat well will grow into adults whose bodies are likely to be in some way impaired. Their brains will not have developed to their full capacity and their bodies will be weaker and more prone to illness. These adults, a significant percentage of the population, will be less productive, and their prospects for success will be diminished. They’ll get sick more often and may even need special care.

Consequently, one of the wealthiest, most innovative and diverse societies the world has ever known may succumb to mediocrity in a less prosperous and less successful future. This won’t change until politicians decide to invest in the future by funding programs that feed and educate rather than kill and imprison.

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