How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

8 Myths about Hunger in America

There are many widely held false misconceptions about hunger in America. The first and most insidious is that there is no hunger in America. This myth is reinforced by the deniers like Rush Limbaugh who on his syndicated radio show said: “The idea that there is perpetual hunger out there [in America] is a myth and a lie….”

#1: Hunger is a myth.

There are 50 million Americans who are food insecure, which is the most broadly-used measure of food deprivation in the United States. The USDA defines food insecurity as meaning “consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.”

Hunger is a serious problem in Mercer County where there are 14,813 households (11%) living below the poverty line and another 32,156 (25%) households earning more than the official U.S. Poverty line but less than the basic cost of living.

The vast majority of the hundreds of individuals who come to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen’s (TASK) main facility and its satellite sites in Princeton, Hamilton, and Hightstown are food insecure as are the thousands of individuals who
frequent the more than sixty food pantries and emergency feeding sites in the county.

Myth #2: People are hungry because they are too lazy to work.

A significant portion of TASK’s clients are the elderly, the physically challenged, the mentally ill and those suffering from substance abuse problems. Many of those served at TASK and who come to area food pantries are from hardworking families living below the federal poverty line. Given very high rents in New Jersey, it is often difficult for people in lower-wage jobs to provide for all of their families’ needs. Food is one of the few flexible items in a family’s budget, and often people do without food to pay other bills.

At TASK an express line is operated for the working poor, who come during their lunch break, wearing paint-splattered overalls because their income doesn’t meet all their needs. An increasing number of Mercer County residents receiving emergency food are the “new poor” – middle class Americans unexpectedly shoved into the ranks of the poor due to the recession.

Myth #3: People receiving emergency food assistance need help because they have too many kids.

No. Most families seeking assistance consist of 2-3 people, usually a mom and one or two children (average household size is 2.2 individuals). Only 3% of households have more than six members. According to Feeding America, 52% of client households are single-person households. These demographics are borne out at TASK.

Myth #4: All poor people get food stamps.

Nationwide roughly a quarter of Americans eligible for federal nutrition assistance don’t sign up according to the most recent USDA data. The Food Research Action Center indicates many folks don’t know they are eligible, while others find navigating the system too difficult and others don’t do it because of the stigma. Only 40 percent of eligible seniors are participating. Half of all foods stamps go to children.

Myth #5: SNAP is rife with fraud and abuse.

The accuracy rate for SNAP was 96.2% (fiscal year 2011). This is considerably higher than other major benefit programs. The national rate of food stamp trafficking is about 1.3 cents per dollar during the years 2009 to 2011.

From time to time, an outrageous example of abuse receives extensive media attention. For every one of these incidents, there are hundreds of stories of heartbreaking need. The overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients follow the stringent rules.

Myth #6: People on SNAP just need to get a job

SNAP provides a vital lifeline so that people and their families can eat while they search for a job. The program is designed to expand and contract in relation to the rise and fall in unemployment. Approximately 40% of households receiving SNAP benefits have at least one working person.

SNAP has strict time limits for unemployed workers. Able-bodied adults without dependents may only receive 3 months of SNAP benefits during any 3-year period, unless they enroll in a qualified work training program. The SNAP benefit formula is structured to provide strong work incentives.

Myth #7: Undocumented immigrants are eligible for SNAP benefits.

Not true. Additionally, there is a strict waiting period for documented immigrants. Documented adult immigrants (those with a green card) must wait 5 years before they are eligible for SNAP. Only 4% of SNAP participants are non-
citizens (documented immigrants or refugees).

Myth #8: There is nothing we can do to help those who are hungry.

There’s plenty we can do. Volunteer, donate or collect food from lists developed by local hunger relief organizations. Do something about acute hunger in your community by help starting a soup kitchen. Call your Congressman and urge him to oppose cuts in SNAP benefits.

We need to remember that hunger isn’t only about food. It’s also about jobs and wages. Those who are concerned about hunger should also be concerned about the passage of living-wage laws. According to the USDA, the fastest growing demographic among SNAP recipients are people who because of their low wages had to apply for food stamps to feed their families.