When I think of the holidays, I think of lots of relatives gathered around the dinner table, enjoying the company, the occasion, and an indulgent meal. It's a time when normal food rules are suspended, the dieters, fitness freaks and food-obsessed alike using the occasion to try some of everything. (Why, yes, I'll have some of Grandma's cookies, but not without a side of Uncle Morgan's pumpkin pie…)
Plus, as an added perk, I get to stop obsessing about how much each serving is costing me or how many meals I'll get out of whatever I'm making and just enjoy the food.
But this year more than ever, many families won't have that luxury. In these tough economic times, sometimes it's hard not to think about how much a holiday meal costs. People in Vermont are feeling that pinch — John Sayles, the CEO of Vermont Foodbank, said in a recent interview with VPR that his organization has seen double the amount of demand from its partner food shelves this year compared to this time last year.
And it's not just Vermont. Several weeks ago USA Today reported that food shelves across the country were already bracing for record demand this holiday season. It's not a brand-new trend — according to statistics from the Bread for the World Institute's Hunger Report, the percentage of U.S. households without food security (defined as the ability to provide safe, nutritious food) rose from 11.1 percent to 14.6 percent between 2007 and 2008. That's more than 44 million people who don't always have access to the food they need, or one in six Americans.
But according to a Chronicle of Philanthropy report, while there have been significant declines in most philanthropy, Feeding America has seen an increase in food donations in recent years. Indeed, the food bank network expects to collect up to 25% more in donations this year. And though food shelves nationwide are still struggling to find food for everyone who needs it, it's heartening to know that people are thinking of those who can't afford to buy food this holiday season.
Food is a basic human need, but it serves so many other purposes. It brings families together over the dinner table, and it creates a comforting routine, giving us something to look forward to, even when winter is at its bleakest cold. So before you sit down to a holiday meal (or meals) in the next couple of weeks, take a moment to appreciate what you have. And maybe give a couple cans, a box of cereal or a cash donation to your local food shelf. It'll be a tangible improvement in someone's holiday.