News and analysis
November 24, 2009

Obama Administration Calls on Americans to Help Fight Hunger

President Obama

The Obama administration today called on Americans to help respond to the country’s mounting hunger crisis, announcing a new volunteer campaign called United We Serve: Feed a Neighbor.

The White House, U.S. Agriculture Department, and Corporation for National and Community Service have joined forces to ask people to do things like prepare or deliver meals for older people, donate food or volunteer at a food bank, plant shared local gardens, and develop antihunger programs in their neighborhoods.

The summons follows release of a survey last week showing that 14.6 percent of American households, or 49 million people, lacked food at some point in 2008 — the highest rate since the Agriculture Department began issuing such surveys in 1995.

“It was a wakeup call,” Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, said in a conference call. “It was a sobering report.” Given the impact of the recession, next year’s report will likely “paint an even more unsettling picture,” he said.

‘Neighbor’ Campaign

The Feed a Neighbor effort refers people to, a Web site managed by the national-service agency, where they will find volunteer opportunities with nonprofit groups or tool kits for organizing their own projects.

The administration noted that requests for emergency food assistance are up 30 percent over last year and more than half of the nation’s food banks have had to turn people away over the past year, according to a report by Feeding America, an antihunger group.

Several charity and foundation representatives last week asked Congress to help nonprofit groups respond to the growing demand for food aid by strengthening social safety-net programs and tax incentives for charitable donations.

Mr. Vilsack said the administration has proposed extending and improving the Child Nutrition Act, which provides food to schoolchildren, and spending $85-million in 2010 to design more effective programs for feeding children during the summer. He noted that the economic-stimulus package has provided $150-million to food banks this year.

But he said the fight can’t be waged by government alone. Americans should recognize “this is a problem in their community, it’s not in someone else’s community,” he said. “We all have a responsibility and an opportunity to make a difference in small ways and big ways.”