"We are seeing a lot more people who used to work for US Airways and other laid-off blue-collar workers," says Joyce Rothermel, CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Foodbank, which gives out groceries to those in need.
According to a new survey of more than 50 local hunger and homelessness agencies, which Rothermel's group helped to conduct, more than a tenth of anti-hunger agencies were forced to turn down requests for food in 2004. The country-wide survey of 900 locations -- from small towns and suburbs to large cities -- by the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness showed Pittsburgh's food banks were doing slightly better than the nation. Local groups received 22 percent more requests for food, as opposed to a 28 percent national average. While 11 percent of agencies in Pittsburgh turned away requests, 24 percent nationwide were forced to do so.
Homelessness is also on the rise here: 78 percent of Pittsburgh's homeless shelters reported an average 33 percent increase in requests for emergency shelter.
Rothermel predicts that the food bank will distribute 17 million pounds of food this year (counting the 12 months ending July 1) thanks to a sharp increase in requests from the working poor and recently laid-off. Gov. Ed Rendell's current budget does not provide enough money to deal with the escalating problem, she says, and federal money is become increasingly scarce. The Pennsylvania Association of Regional Food Banks and the Pennsylvania Hunger Action Coalition have requested $18.5 million in state aid for food banks in the commonwealth, $1 million more than they received in the previous budget. The Rendell administration is proposing a reduction to $15 million, Rothermel says -- a level they haven't seen since 1998.
"Whenever we, as a nation, have a goal we achieve it, whether it be landing on the moon or defeating communism or the current struggle against terrorism," she says. "If we made feeding people a top priority, we could end hunger in this country."