One of the more clumsy phrases employed by sociologists and nonprofits these days is “food insecure.” The language police — and we count ourselves as on-duty officers — will sneer at the transfiguration of an age-old and still serviceable “hungry.”
But for the nearly 75 percent of Long Island households that are in emergency food programs, food insecure describes them more accurately than hungry. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), food insecurity “describes a household’s inability to provide enough food for every person to live an active, healthy life.” In practical terms, it means that people are involuntarily cutting back on meals or not knowing where the next meal is coming from.
The USDA reports that 42.2 million Americans — including 12 million children — fall into this category, with nearly 11 million households in a condition of “very low food security,” which translates to one or more people sharing a home who have been hungry “over the course of a year.”
The grim statistics don’t spare Long Island. Long Island Cares, a nonprofit food provider, estimates that 283,700 of our neighbors in the region receive emergency food each year. Closer to home is the poverty on Shelter Island that many of us don’t see. But School Nurse Mary Kanarvogel does, every day.
“Some kids here have no health insurance,” she told Charity Robey two weeks ago for an Island Profile. “In the dead of winter, it gets rough. I do a lot of field work with the Lions Club to distribute IGA food cards, to help families with heat and coats, or help kids who don’t have money for a school trip.”
The food pantry at Shelter Island Presbyterian Church had for years been in the capable hands of volunteers Tippi and Al Bevan, and is now managed by another able volunteer, Carrie Wood.
The Bevans took charge in 2007 and, for years, reached out for contributions, shopped for food and other items and made every effort to keep the pantry well stocked. Sadly, Al passed away just a few weeks ago. He and Tippi deserve the thanks of the community for their role in trying to keep hunger at bay for our neighbors.
Carrie also deserves thanks for assuming the demanding responsibilities of carrying on the Bevans’ work.
This Thanksgiving, we’ll take pleasure in the stories handed down from generation to generation — whether facts have been lost, obscured or tempered by time — reinforcing what families and nations believe about the best part of themselves.
That best part of America is being grateful for what we have and sharing. We’re taught that we’re free, and we’re all equal, and so have a duty to give thanks. The lesson taken from the Thanksgiving stories, for everyone who is fortunate to be with loved ones at our November feast, is that it’s a day every American knows is set aside to count blessings and remember that an important element of our citizenship doesn’t take much to remember those who are not quite as secure as we are. Long Island Cares can be reached at 631-582-3663 or [email protected]
To volunteer for the Shelter Island Food Pantry, or to donate food or money, give Carrie a call at 631-749-5209, or visit sipchurch.org.