When I heard there was a movie called “The Hunger Games” I thought I was hearing an April Fool’s joke. Those of us at Catholic Charities and thousands of churches and community groups around the country have seen far too many people who come to us because they are hungry. It’s no game for them. And yet I read that “The Hunger Games” just topped the box office for the fourth week in a row, bringing in an estimated $337.1 million in the US and another $500 million worldwide.
Now I have no problem with the movies. The motion picture and video industry employs more than 350,000 people in America, with pay ranging from above minimum wage to figures most of us can only dream about.
But when I hear the word “hunger” I don’t think of movies or games, but of a child going to bed hungry. The report Household Food Security in the United States in 2010 (issued in 2011) estimated that 17.2 million households had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of money or other resources. Considering that the average size of a household is 2.5 persons, the number of Americans who can’t count on having enough food for an active, healthy life is just about equivalent to the entire population of Canada.
For years Catholic Charities and many other organizations have stepped into this space with emergency food supplies and community kitchens. But the Great Recession has dealt these programs a double whammy: contributions have been lower because donors are themselves strained financially, while those seeking food assistance have multiplied and include many who never imagined they would need to turn to a bread line or a food pantry for their sustenance.
The hunger games we know are more like juggling increased demand with fewer resources and racing to fill pantry bags before the doors open. Three Catholic Charities agencies alone reported turning away at least 1,750 individuals that came to them seeking food in the 4th quarter of last year.
We don’t live in the post-apocalyptic world of “The Hunger Games.” And the hunger of our neighbors, those who are poor and vulnerable, is not a game. We believe in creating a “circle of protection” around resources that serve those in greatest need, like WIC and SNAP. As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recently wrote in a letter to Congress, “The moral measure of the agriculture appropriations process is how it serves ‘the least of these.’ We urge you to protect and fund programs that feed hungry people, help the most vulnerable farmers, strengthen rural communities and promote good stewardship of God’s creation. “
This is the hunger game worth fighting – and winning. Are you ready?