Hunger haunts wealthy suburbs, too

Posted: May 04, 2012

Hunger lives in unexpected places.

In fact, there isn’t a county in America that’s free of it, according to Elaine Waxman, vice president of Feeding America, a national umbrella organization for more than 200 regional food banks.

That can make it tough for advocates who want to help people low on food, even in “nice” places such as Montgomery County, Waxman said Thursday at the “Beyond Hunger” conference in Center City.

“It’s a difficult conversation to have with people who don’t want to see hunger where they live,” she added.

Waxman and others gathered as part of the first national antihunger conference held in Philadelphia. It’s being run by the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at Drexel University’s School of Public Health.

More than 325 people are attending the conference, which mixes academics, antipoverty advocates, philanthropists, and people from low-income communities across the country. It runs until Friday at the Doubletree Hilton Hotel on South Broad Street.

Joining Waxman in a session titled “There Is No Hunger Here” was Patrick Druhan, director of food resources and nutrition at the Montgomery County Community Action Development Commission.

“In a county like Montgomery, there should be no hunger, and yet we have it,” Druhan said.

Nearly 11 percent of the county is “food insecure,” which describes people who don’t always have enough food during the year to live active, healthy lives. That translates into 83,000 people.

In comparison, 22 percent of Philadelphia is food-insecure, which represents 331,000 people.

Hunger is also part of Chester County, listed as the 24th wealthiest county in America, according to Phoebe Kitson-Davis, program manager of the Chester County Food Bank.

“You would think we shouldn’t have to worry about food insecurity,” she said, adding that 9 percent of Chester County children under 18 live in poverty.

In recent years, the number of people accessing county food cupboards has increased as much as 60 percent, Kitson-Davis said.

When a child in a suburban school is lethargic, frequently ill, or having academic trouble, most people don’t think to ask, “Are you hungry?” she said. “But many of the families we’re working with are hungry and nutritionally deficient.”

Kitson-Davis said she and other advocates were trying to get farmers in the county to grow more food for the poor.

In communities considered well-off, being hungry can be humiliating.

Betty Burton, who runs Serving Hands, a food-distribution agency in Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, knows firsthand how hard it is for a person in a community of rich neighbors who needs help feeding his or her family.

“People who work in the food pantry may have gone to school with people coming in for food,” Burton said. She’s seen people leave empty-handed in such circumstances. “They’d rather go home hungry than deal with people knowing they’re having trouble,” Burton said.

Contact Alfred Lubrano at 215-854-4969 or alubrano@phillynews.com.

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