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Hunger is Real for Many Wisconsin Families

Dan Stein of Second Harvest Food Bank says too many Wisconsin families are forced to make a choice between buying food or paying for basics like housing and utilities. Courtesy: Second Harvest Food Bank.
Dan Stein of Second Harvest Food Bank says too many Wisconsin families are forced to make a choice between buying food or paying for basics like housing and utilities. Courtesy: Second Harvest Food Bank.
November 25, 2015

MADISON, Wis. – Millions of Wisconsinites will sit down to a bountiful Thanksgiving meal, including many who are the beneficiaries of the efforts of food banks all around the state.

But one good meal doesn't end food insecurity, says Dan Stein, president and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank in Madison. He knows that hunger persists in the Badger state, and believes part of the problem is the erosion of middle-class jobs.

Stein describes the dilemma: "A person that loses a middle-class job is considered unemployed, but when they get a job and it's 12 bucks an hour, they're now considered employed – but they're not able to take care of their family for the entire month," he says. "It isn't people that need help for 30 days a month. It's a lot of people that the last 3, 5, 7 days of the month are struggling."

Stein points out that the majority of people in Wisconsin who rely on food banks live in a household where someone is working at least 30 hours a week, typically earning less than $20,000 a year. He says that forces families to make tough choices between buying food or paying for such basics as housing and utilities.

According to Stein, hunger has a drastic effect on children.

"Kids will act out, they can't focus, they can't concentrate as well, they'll fidget when they're sitting in class," he says. "As a result, they don't seem to do well on exams, they're absent more often, and they drop out of school at a higher rate than their peers."

He notes the medical community is now beginning to realize that hunger is the underlying cause of many medical problems, so many clinics are changing and adapting their diagnostic practices to recognize and deal with hunger.

"Oftentimes, people are not taught how to diagnose food insecurity. They're usually spending their time – once they identify something – on providing services, the medicine or whatever, to deal with the symptoms."

At this time of year, people are often generous and donate to food drives, which Stein says is truly helpful and deeply appreciated. But it's cold, hard cash that will do the most good.

"If you went to the grocery store and spent $10 and donated that to us, or if you gave us a $10 bill and we did that, we could get 10, 12, 15 times as much food because of sources," he explains. "Money always gives us flexibility, and we are able to do much more with it than someone donating food."

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI