Feed the hungry

Feed the hungry

We editorialized last week that tragedies, such as the death of 19 firefighters in the Yarnell Hill Fire, happen beyond any political or geographic boundary. Well, that’s a fine sentiment, but what about tragedies that aren’t dramatic, that don’t happen on the quasi-biblical scale of the Yarnell Hill deaths?

Hunger in America is that kind of tragedy, but unfortunately, unity is not in the offing on this issue. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives advanced a Farm Bill that was stripped of the nutrition title that funds such programs as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP or food stamps.

The political storm that the House’s vote raised reminds us that hunger is a real issue in our wealthy nation and our state.

Abby J. Leibman, president and CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, stated in reaction to the vote: “This … is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to decimate [SNAP].”

However, as it stands, the vote doesn’t end SNAP and there’s hope that a compromise might be reached.

Getting away from the politics and back to the tragedy, though, there’s demonstrated need out there, at least if we look at how many people have been served by SNAP.

In June of 2012, for instance, 1.1 million Arizonans — in 481,901 households — participated in SNAP, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. While on a national level, 44.7 million people — in 21 million households — received SNAP benefits in 2011, according to USDA.

The program, designed to give temporary food assistance, has seen its cost double over the past five years to $80 billion annually, according to the Associated Press. The cost ballooned primarily because we’ve been through the worst recession in most people’s memory over the past five years — about one in seven Americans is served by SNAP.

We ran a story just last year (“Local rabbi takes food stamp challenge,” Jewish News, Sept. 21, 2012) that illustrated what it was like to live on the SNAP individual allotment of $1.50 per meal.

It wasn’t easy, but in our story, Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman said that the point of taking the challenge was to “express gratitude toward the blessings in my life and to share those blessings.”

She added that Judaism mandates social justice. If there are “people right down the street from me who are in pain and are suffering, then it’s my suffering, too.”

Those of us who are fortunate enough not to need  assistance can express our gratitude by using the headlines as a call to action to increase the help  we give to people in need. We can volunteer in a soup kitchen, donate to food banks or Tomchei Shabbos and make donations under the Working Poor Tax Credit to agencies such as Jewish Family & Children’s Service and Jewish Free Loan, MAZON and organizations in the broader community that address hunger. It’s today’s equivalent of leaving, as it says in Leviticus, the corners of our fields “for the poor and the stranger.”