Struggling with hunger, hardship in the United States

Think that hunger is a crisis faced only by other countries? Think again. As the economic downturn continues to bear down on the United States, many American families, like Virginia and her daughters, are struggling just to find enough to eat, particularly as children finish school for the summer.

Story and photos by Laura Reinhardt, World Vision U.S.
Published June 5, 2012 at 12:00am PDT

Last September, Virginia’s husband, Terry Williams, died of colon cancer at his mobile home in Rosemont, West Virginia. He left behind his wife of 18 years, as well as his two daughters — Kelly and Becky.

Since Terry’s death, Virginia has sometimes gone hungry to make sure that her daughters never have to know that feeling.

“It’s been hard since he’s been gone,” says Virginia, who is working part-time. “Just getting the bills paid and just making ends meet. Making sure that the kids have what they need.”

Skipping payments to survive

Virginia puts on a brave face for her daughters, but she admits, “This past week, I think I’ve cried about three times a day.”

The family has very little money. Out of her Social Security income, she must pay for water, sewer, electric, gas, telephone, car insurance, and rent.

“There’s time[s] where I skipped paying the sewer bill just to pay the rent,” Virginia says. “Then, the next month, we’ll pay up the sewer bill in full and skip something else.”

All of these expenses don’t even account for the cost of food for the family.

Backpacks filled with something yummy

Becky shows off her brand-new backpack filled with food.Virginia’s church, Bailey United Methodist, is a source of ongoing generosity. Three women there spearhead an outreach program through the local elementary school.

They realized that many children at this school, like Virginia’s kids, who were on the free or reduced-cost lunch program, often had to go hungry or eat very little food over the weekend. They decided they would fill that gap.

But they needed something in which to pack the weekend supplies. So World Vision provided them with backpacks.

“[The backpacks] have helped out so much because they’re really heavy and durable,” says Sue Moore, a participant in the outreach program. “And, of course, they’re backpacks, so they can put them on their back if they need.”

An efficient, effective system

Each one is labeled with the child’s lunch card number and also the number of children in the family who attend school. Some families have children attending the local middle and high school, so the church volunteers make sure that they’re filled with enough food for all the kids to have breakfast, lunch, and a snack.

Church members don’t know the identity of the children receiving the backpacks. They leave it to the school to distribute the food.

But one night, Virginia was there to volunteer with her daughter, Becky, who was very excited to show the volunteers which backpack was hers.

“They fill it up with food for over the weekends, because some kids don’t really get food over the weekends,” Becky says.

A broader problem

Kelly finds some comfort in the animals her father left behind after his death.Becky’s comment is telling — it illustrates how dependent many children have become on school to keep from going hungry. Kids in this West Virginia community aren’t alone, either.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 2010, 2.6 million more people landed in poverty. That brings the total to more than 46 million — the highest number since the government started tracking poverty in the 1950s. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defined the federal poverty level as $22,050 for a family of four.

The number of Americans struggling just to get by will continue to increase as the economy continues to falter. As summer begins, and most children finish school for the year, their parents will be faced with the dilemma of how to pay the bills and feed their family at the same time.

A helping hand

That’s why World Vision works across the United States, partnering with churches and other community organizations in areas of need to provide children and families with basics like food kits to help them get by while times are tough.

For families like Virginia and her kids, even a simple gift like this can mean the world — particularly when it’s a struggle just to pay utility bills. This mother would like to go back to school, but with her current financial situation, she has to wait.

“If I could afford it, I’d get Internet and do classes online in the evenings,” she says.

For now, Virginia tries to carry on the best that she can. She just wants to provide the brightest future she can for her daughters. And it’s a lot harder to do that without Terry by her side to help.

Learn more

Read an article about a World Vision food distribution at a church in Washington state.

Read another story about a feeding program supported by World Vision in New York City.

Three ways you can help

Pray for God’s blessing and provision upon children and families who struggle with poverty right here in the United States, like Virginia and her daughters.

Make a one-time donation to help feed a U.S. family in need for three days. Your gift will help deliver nutritious meals like oatmeal, lentil soup or pasta, and a bean and rice casserole to American families who struggle with hunger.

Give monthly to support children in need in the United States. Your monthly contribution will help provide U.S. children living in poverty with essentials like food, warm clothing, school supplies, academic mentoring, training, and more.