New study: More than 25 million Americans seek emergency food assistance each year

Feb. 24, 2006
The largest, most comprehensive survey ever conducted on emergency food distribution reports that 9 million children and nearly 3 million seniors are regularly in need.

More than 25 million Americans — including nearly 9 million children and 3 million seniors — receive emergency food assistance each year from America's Second Harvest, representing an 8 percent increase since 2001, according to a report released Feb. 23. "Hunger in America 2006," based on 52,000 face-to-face interviews with people seeking emergency food assistance and more than 30,000 agency surveys, is the largest, most comprehensive study ever conducted on domestic hunger. The study was commissioned by the America's Second Harvest —The Nation’s Food Bank Network of charitable agencies, and sponsored by Altria.

“It is tragic and alarming that more and more people are relying on emergency food assistance in the United States, where we produce enough food to feed every hungry person in the world,” said Robert Forney, president and CEO of the America's Second Harvest Network.

About 70 percent of the clients seeking emergency food assistance are living below the federal poverty line, and nearly 40 percent have at least one adult working in their household. Seventy percent of clients are living in food insecure households — not knowing where they will find their next meal — and 33 percent of those clients reported experiencing hunger — that is, being completely without a source of food.

“Millions of Americans rely every month on the agencies we serve. Millions of others are living less than one paycheck away from hunger,” said Forney. “When people hit sudden hard times including illness, loss of a job, or disruption in health insurance, they are forced to turn to the America's Second Harvest Network for help.”

Many of the 52,000 clients who participated in face-to-face interviews for "Hunger in America 2006" reported having to make difficult choices between food and everyday necessities. More than 40 percent of the clients served report having to choose between paying for utilities or heating fuel and food; 35 percent had to choose between paying for rent or a mortgage and food; 32 percent report having to choose between paying for medical bills and food.

“Food is a basic human need and right,” said Jennifer Goodale, vice president of contributions, Altria Group, Inc., (parent company of Kraft Foods, the nation’s largest food and beverage company). “As the sponsor of Hunger in America 2006, we hope the study will inform public policy, energize the response among the public and private sectors, and ultimately provide a better understanding of the complex issue of hunger and the millions of people it affects.”

Of the 25 million people the America's Second Harvest Network serves, 39 percent are white; 38 percent are black; and 17 percent are Hispanic.

Volunteers and faith-based organizations are the lifeline of America’s emergency food distribution system. More than 65 percent of food pantries and 70 percent of soup kitchens rely entirely on volunteers and have no paid staff. As many as 90 percent of food pantries, 86 percent of soup kitchens and 71 percent of shelters in the America's Second Harvest Network use volunteers. Additionally, nearly 75 percent of pantries, 65 percent of soup kitchens, and 45 percent of emergency shelters are run by faith-based agencies affiliated with churches, mosques, synagogues and other religious organizations.

“The more thanone million volunteers who support the America's Second Harvest Network each year are critical to the work we do, and ultimately to the improving the lives of the 25 million Americans we serve each year,” said Forney.

The America's Second Harvest Network is the largest charitable hunger-relief organization in the country with more than 200 food banks and food-rescue organizations serving all fifty states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. America's Second Harvest Network members distribute more than 2 billion pounds of food to 45,000 emergency agencies each year including 29,600 soup kitchens, 5,600 food pantries; and 4,100 emergency shelters.

For more information on "Hunger in America 2006," visit For more on America's Second Harvest, see

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