He didn’t ask for help; he merely asked for understanding.

The camera followed him for five minutes capturing his homeless existence, but he never once lamented his circumstances. The student filmmaker showed this man living in a tent along the Ohio River, raiding trash bins to collect aluminum cans for money, gathering dead tree limbs for firewood, catching up on his reading at the public library that also doubles as a place to get warm, heating water over a fire so he can bathe and shaving through the reflection from a mirror tacked to a tree.

And I’ve been worried about eating too much and gaining weight.

Huntington is fortunate to have a food bank. Several groups have been seeking donations this fall to replenish the shelves. It’s a place where $1 can buy several bags of groceries. People visit the food bank from a variety of circumstances, but they wouldn’t be there if they didn’t face the prospect of being hungry.

Imagine going to a grocery store and finding nothing but empty shelves. That’s pretty common in former Soviet bloc countries where a ready, diverse food supply is hard to maintain in post-communist economies, but people who depend on food banks face that prospect every time they visit. The only way food is available is if people donate it.

A lot of rural communities don’t have that kind of network to maintain and provide a food bank.

Even large cities filled with affluent people are finding it difficult to maintain food banks. The Washington Post reported the district’s largest food distribution center, Capital Area Food Bank, is this year more than half off donations versus last year at this time. The bank reported 230,000 pounds of food this fall, which is down from 570,000 pounds last fall.

The Post reported a combination of factors: supplies of excess farm commodities have dropped due to drought and increased international trade, and grocery store donations are decreasing due to chain consolidation and tighter inventory controls.

While donations are falling, demand is rising. Calls to the Capital Area Food Bank’s hunger hotline have increased 37 percent since last year. More than a third more people are trying to survive with less than half the food available from last year.

Jesus said the poor would always be with us. Maybe the presence of the poor is more a measure of us than them. It’s what people do for those with less that tells what kind of country they live in.

I cannot imagine really not knowing where my next meal would come from or when I would have one. I cannot imagine telling my child that I didn’t know what we would eat for supper because I didn’t have any food. My greatest challenge is trying to decide what I want to cook when I get home, but my refrigerator and shelves have food in them.

America is a country of great excesses and great needs. Grocery store chain owners can’t see the hungry from their glass-enclosed penthouse office suites, but we can.

We can take what we’d spend in just one night at the movies and buy food for someone else with it. We can forgo eating at a nice restaurant for one night and help stock a shelf at the food bank with the proceeds.

Mountaineer Food Bank in Gassaway serves hungry people in 48 of West Virginia’s 55 counties. It is part of the America’s Second Harvest network of food banks. Its Web site reports 260,000 people are fed every month through 430 feeding programs it sponsors. Every dollar donated allows the food bank to buy $14.64 of groceries through its bulk buying program.

For more information, log onto www.mountaineerfoodbank.com, call 1-800-486-4798 or write Mountaineer Food Bank, 180 Enterprise Drive, Gassaway, WV 26624.

Take away someone’s hunger pangs by filling the shelves at a food bank or soup kitchen.

— Young is a Register-Herald columnist. E-mail: ynerissa@verizon.net.

© 2007 by Nerissa Young

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