On Monday, Temple Beth Sholom hosted a trailer on its Summerlin campus to tell the story of hunger in America. As many Americans rush to finish their holiday gift shopping and prepare their holiday party menus, over 41 million Americans struggle with food security. As the season of giving kicks into high gear. Temple Beth Sholom and anti-poverty activists are hoping their fellow Nevadans won’t just remember the less fortunate, but also do something about this crisis in our own community.
Why are so many people hungry?
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, at least 41 million Americans were food insecure in 2016. This means that about 15% of Americans often face bare pantries, empty refrigerators, and stressful decisions on when they can have their next meal. Despite seven years of economic recovery, this number is 5 million higher than in 2007, when the Great Recession began.
How did this happen? There have been various factors at play, including rising income inequality and new restrictions on SNAP (or food stamp) eligibility. These cuts to SNAP have caused more people to turn to food pantries and other local charities for assistance. Because these charities themselves often have limited budgets, they’re not always equipped to solve this problem on their own.
“The cost of living […] squeezes out their ability to actually have nutritious, healthy meals. That all happens every day, right here in Las Vegas.”
– Samuel Chu, Mazon
Samuel Chu is the National Synagogue Organizer at Mazon, an organization dedicated to fighting food insecurity in the U.S. and Israel. He described Mazon’s traveling “This Is Hunger” exhibit this way: “It’s sharing the stories gathered across the nation, from individuals from all walks of life. [… It’s] their experience of hunger in 2017, right here in America.”
Chu then explained how many of these people don’t fit the traditional stereotype of “the starving poor”. “There are millions of Americans, and they don’t look like what we expect them to. It’s not starvation like what we’re used to seeing.” Chu continued, “The cost of health care, the cost of living, all squeezes out their ability to actually have nutritious, healthy meals. That all happens every day, right here in Las Vegas.”
“I see a reality day in and day out, and I have to make sure people see it. We are very good at hiding the problem. We have to be good at solving it, too.”
– Rabbi Felipe Goodman, Temple Beth Sholom
During the presentation, the audience listened to stories of people across the nation who struggle with food security. Some of these people were seniors. Others were in between jobs. And some were children.
After the presentation, Samuel Chu and Temple Beth Sholom Rabbi Felipe Goodman led a discussion with the audience on what they just experienced and what they can do about it. Rabbi Goodman spoke about how he often passes by the “tent city” homeless encampment near Downtown Las Vegas, and urged the audience to do something to solve this crisis. “I see a reality day in and day out, and I have to make sure people see it. We are very good at hiding the problem. We have to be good at solving it, too.”
“The government can’t just rely on faith-based services. We can’t do it alone.”
– Rabbi Felipe Goodman, Temple Beth Sholom[Heading 5]
While “This Is Hunger” is showing at Temple Beth Sholom, Congress is preparing to cast its final votes on the Trump Tax Plan that disproportionately cuts taxes on the richest 1% of Americans while risking budget cuts that could harm nearly everyone else. Congress also has until Friday to pass a new budget and decide whether or not to allow another round of automatic “sequestration” across-the-board budget cuts to occur in 2018. Anti-poverty programs like “Meals on Wheels” have already been affected by previous rounds of “sequestration” cuts, and they may receive even less in federal funding depending on what Congress does within the next 100 hours.
Against this backdrop, Rabbi Goodman warned that private charities can’t solve this food security crisis or the larger problem of poverty on their own. “We have to make sure we address the source, which is how do we get more people to get the food they need,” Goodman said. “The government can’t just rely on faith-based services. We can’t do it alone.”