Opinion Extra

Watson: The new hungry, the growing need

Six months ago, we started seeing new faces at Harvest Hope Food Bank - a banker, a teacher, a mechanic, a truck driver, a mom or a dad who never dreamed of standing in line to ask for food. But they resembled the faces of everyone who has come to our emergency food pantries over the years - lines of worry surrounding the eyes, the mouth downturned, the vacant look. All are the faces of the tired, the depressed and the bewildered who don't know what crisis to tackle next.

In the past 23 months, Harvest Hope's service demand has been more than we can fathom - up 150 percent from the first half of 2008 to the first half of this year. These are our neighbors experiencing hunger.

We have tried to leave no stone unturned to deliver food to families, children and the elderly - through Mobile Food Pantries, Kids Cafe sites, Snacksack and Back Pack programs and agency distribution. But that is not enough; we need help.

We now have three emergency food pantries, with one in Lexington County that opened in January. We have converted a portion of our warehouse in Florence to a pantry, and with community support, we will be opening a much larger emergency food pantry in downtown Columbia in a couple of months. These are absolute necessities, because every day we feel the walls of our facilities are going to tumble down because of the long lines.

We also have tremendous needs for new buildings in Greenville and Florence, because unfortunately, more and more hungry, hurting people need us when other places are closed. Business analysts will say now is not the time to expand, but we must, because families just like yours and mine are facing nights, weekends, days without food.

Although we received and distributed 20 million pounds of food last year, we need 30 million pounds to adequately feed more than 300,000 families in our 20 counties this year. That is 275 more tractor-trailers of food than we are currently receiving. We have wonderful donations of truckloads of fresh fruit and vegetables, but they must be distributed within days of receiving them.

Recently we received 220 pallets of potatoes; some of them went bad and had to be thrown away before we could get them distributed from our hot warehouses. If we had all of the resources we needed, we could have made potato soup, frozen potato au gratin or frozen French fries to distribute during the winter months. This is just one small example of what a real difference we could make to change the humiliation, fear and pain associated with hunger.

We can not be satisfied until we can have all the cooler and freezer equipment we need, a production kitchen to prepare the fresh produce as a frozen meal instead of it going bad, larger facilities to help move the food, more Kids Cafe sites and more of our own full-time emergency food pantries.

We know what we need, but it is just outside our grasp. For 23 months, since unemployment started rising in November 2007, we have increased service delivery while cutting costs in order to maximize the food going to hungry people. Our staff, volunteers and the community at large have helped us through these difficult times. However, right now we are urgently in need of financial donations.

If we can't feed our residents and we can't help those fighting hunger, we are not going to see an increase in any other area, whether it's education, health care or housing. We love our state and its citizens, but in order to help those in need, we need donations, participation in food drives and certainly prayers during this economic downturn. Four hundred organizations in 20 counties, all non-profits, extend hunger relief in our state, and they come to Harvest Hope Food Bank for resources. We anticipate half a million more people will be in need this year.

Will you help us? Go to our Web site at www.harvesthope.org and click on the "Donate Now" button to give what you can. Please pray for the entire state, as so many organizations come together to face the many critical issues. This is the issue I am most passionate about, and I hope you are, too.