WASHINGTON, March 8 -- A nationwide food bank announced Tuesday it serves 26 million Americans seeking emergency food assistance annually, 43 percent of whom are children under the age of 17.
'The most surprising and disappointing thing to me is 43 percent of our clients are children,' said Christine Vladirimiroff, president of Second Harvest. 'As a former teacher I know this is disruptive for their development. Poverty is biased towards the young.'
Second Harvest is a network of 185 food banks serving 41,587 charitable agencies. It relies on food from company surplus, restaurant leftovers and other sources.
The 18-month-long study, sponsored by Kraft General Foods, was based on interviews from 9,300 member agencies and 8,596 people using emergency food aid. The marketing firm said the survey has a 5 percent margin of error.
The study found that the 26 million who use the Second Harvest network are stretching the supplies of food depositories nationwide, forcing 46 percent of them to reduce the size of food packages. And 2, 910 food programs reported that they had to turn away 61,110 people annually because of a lack of food.
Ninety percent of households that receive food have low incomes, or amounts at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, according to Second Harvest.
Less than half of the people seeking emergency food assistance presently receive food stamps.
More than 60 percent of those receiving aid are women and 32 percent are blacks, who comprise only 11 percent of the total population. The majority of recipients, however, are white, and 31 percent are employed full-time.
'This study...breaks the stereotypical images of the homeless as those who are hungry,' Vladirimiroff said in a statement. 'This study reveals a whole new realm of hungry people.'
At a news conference, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., vowed to keep intact funding for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). Second Harvest distributes 90 million to 100 million pounds of TEFAP food to complement donations from other organizations.
'In 1987 I sued President Reagan's agriculture secretary because he tried to terminate TEFAP,' Leahy said. 'TEFAP is as necessary now as it was then.'
Leahy's case was declared moot after Congress voted to continue funding.
President Clinton has proposed cutting TEFAP's budget in half. The surplus food assistance program was funded at $80 million in 1994.
'I was encouraged by Senator Leahy,' said Vladirimiroff. 'He has an aggressive agenda to re-fund nutrition programs.'