Let's solve our hunger challenge now
It's easy to imagine how it starts. First, you're laid off. Then begins the sad scramble to apply for unemployment aid. Even with that, you face figuring out whether to pay the mortgage, the power or the Internet connection so you can look for a new job. Before you know it, someone in the family gets sick and you fall further behind. Or you need some extra gas to get to a job interview and that has you wanting.
Soon enough, you're confronted with applying for help to pay for groceries. And even if you're able to force yourself to ask for that help, you're still skimping, trying to stretch, maybe feeling like a failure because you're back to the college era when regular meals were mac n' cheese and Ramen noodles.
This isn't a scene we normally associate with the suburbs, but not surprisingly, it's happening here in much greater numbers.
As Daily Herald State Government Writer Mike Riopell reported recently, hunger remains a real and growing challenge for far too many suburban residents. One way that's measured is in the increased use of Illinois' Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. That program, commonly called food stamps, now is operated through the use of Link cards. Since 2006, the numbers of people using the cards has grown by 168 percent in McHenry County, 133 percent in DuPage, 96 percent in Kane, 84 percent in Lake, 74 percent in Will and 46 percent in Cook County.
The sadder fact is there probably are many more who need help, but aren't getting it. A family of four qualifies if its monthly gross income is less than $2,389, or $28,668 annually. As it stands, Illinois' unemployment rate is 9 percent, but that only counts those who are actively looking for work. The good news, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security, is that the state has added more than 97,000 jobs this year.
Still, the problem remains and is growing. Hungry children have trouble learning. Hungry adults have trouble concentrating on finding work. This is a crisis in the suburbs and around Illinois on which every one of us should focus.
If you're hungry, don't be embarrassed to sign up for aid. If you're not, please make providing help to your neighbors a priority. Give your time. Give your money. Harvest a row from your garden and donate the proceeds to your local food pantry.
State officials and employers also should be focusing their efforts on seeking solutions. Gov. Pat Quinn and others could use their bully pulpits to increase the attention on getting food help to more who need it. Without spending much if any money, they could improve the business climate. They also could and should be holding summits to brainstorm ideas for other solutions. How can we jump-start our economy, create jobs, get more of us working and less of us feeling hunger pangs? Surely if every one of us devoted some time to this problem, we could find more creative solutions.