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Published November 27 2013

Forum editorial: Hunger in the midst of plenty

As families gather today to give thanks for their good fortune, let’s pause to remember the less fortunate. As revealed in a news story today by Forum reporter Kyle Potter, the demand for food at local pantries has risen sharply in recent years. That’s despite the area’s robust economy and low unemployment rates. Sadly, paradoxically, there still is hunger in the midst of plenty.

Evidence abounds. Visits to food pantries around Fargo-Moorhead have almost doubled since 2007, when 58,000 were served, to almost 110,000 last year, according to figures from Great Plains Food Bank. That explosion in demand dwarfs the metro’s 10 percent population increase over the same period. The area’s undeniable – and growing – problem of hunger also shows up in enrollment for food stamps and free or reduced-price school lunches. Enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program almost doubled from 2007 to 2012 in Cass County, and almost tripled in Clay County. In Moorhead Public Schools, almost 41 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced lunches last year, up almost a third since 2007.

Various theories have been floated to explain the seeming contradiction of the spike in demand for food at pantries and food stamp enrollment when the local economy is performing well for many, but not all, with one of the lowest unemployment rates around. Some cite the influx in low-skilled workers, some who ended up here on the way to North Dakota’s booming Oil Patch.

Last year’s increase in food pantry visits tapered a bit, growing 9.6 percent after years of double-digit rises. That’s an encouraging sign. But those who help feed the hungry worry that impending cuts to the food stamp program – steep cuts have been pushed by House Republicans – will only increase the pressure on local efforts like food pantries to meet the need, with emergency food pantry managers girding for a possible 25 percent spike in demand.

So, especially as we gather today around tables heaping with roast turkey and all the trimmings, we must not forget the very real needs of those whose tables would be lacking without a helping hand. Fortunately, because of the generosity of residents and merchants, donations to the food bank also have increased markedly over the years. There also are encouraging examples of communities coming together to extend a hand, including the Tri-City Haitian Ministry in north Fargo, which helps Haitian refugees and others to put food on the table.

In an area where the ethic of self-reliance runs strong, many of those who accept a hand do so reluctantly, sometimes shamefully. But that doesn’t mean they don’t need a hand, especially families with children. Remember: Food pantries, and others that help the needy, rely upon help from donors.

So please open your heart, and your wallet, and people you’ll never know will give thanks for your selfless generosity.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.