Wednesday, October 15, 2008

[Blog Action Day] The American Spaghetti Crisis: Part 2 (Our Nation's Starving Students)

I touched on this issue before in a previous article about out of control food prices and how it is affecting the poor of this country, but one group that I did not take into consideration when I wrote it, was college students.

This is why I felt the need to write a Part 2. (Blog Action Day was the reason why I delayed publishing it till today.)

Due to the rise in student poverty, you may now add them to both the group of kids sufferring from malnutrition, unable to concentrate in school due to their growling stomachs, and also to the group that is struggling with unemployment and the lack of available jobs.

College students are a group of people that are traditionally strapped for cash and live on tight budgets, with ramen being a staple of many of their diets. (It's not just a's real!)

It is difficult to make ends meet when you have to go to school all day, spend a substantial amount of time studying, and make sure you get enough rest in order to perform well in school the next day.

It doesn't leave that much free time for employment, and if students are employed, it's usually only part time for minimum wage. And with many businesses currently feeling the crunch and cutting their workforce, those jobs are becoming more scarce and the competition for them rising.

In many communities, students are competing with low income families that have kids to feed, for those fewer available low paying jobs. And during the summer, they may even be competing with their temporarily unemployed teachers, who also need more money to make ends meet and survive through the summer, till they return to work again in September.

Forget the stereotypes of the typical college student wasting all their money on booze and partying it up all the time. It just isn't true, any more (if it ever even was). The vast majority are working themselves to death and rarely have the time, money, or energy for booze and parties.

And forget the stereotypes of students being able to just hit mom & dad up for more cash. Most parents have set a strict budget for their kids in college, if they are even willing or able to give them any help at all with personal expenses. And the parents that are willing to help, are feeling the squeeze themselves, with the rising food and gasoline prices eating into their extra cash they might normally have and be willing to contribute to support their children away at college.

The truth is, most students are more or less on their own for providing for their personal needs above and beyond their tuition, books, and housing; with many living well below the poverty line, and drowning in debt. The rising cost of fuel is eating away at whatever extra cash they may have on hand to feed themselves. The cost of gasoline is also affecting their ability to hold a job and earn anything at all, to cover their cost of living.

And because their parents can still claim most of them as dependants, statistics are based upon the income of the parents and not the actual cash the students have available at their disposal, so most of these poverty stricken young adults are not even included in the statistics that refer to students living below the poverty line. They are this nation's hidden poor.

The rise in food prices isn't helping things, and are driving students to drain the already scarce supplies of the local food pantries that are already struggling to keep up with the burden of demands from poor and out of work families, while donations dwindle, as the middle class cuts back on "unnecessary" spending.

This is adversely affecting the already poor, the ones that were relying on food pantries long before the students started showing up. There is only so much food available, and it's not enough to go around. The rising number of students in need, is making the problem much worse.

The current economic crisis is going to seriously aggravate the problem further this winter, and it is likely that contributions will dip even lower, and need will increase even more, as the unemployment rate rises even higher.

Your local food pantry will need your help, more than ever, during this time of economic crisis. If you can spare anything at all, please consider making regular donations of food to the one closest to you. A little bit can go a long way and help a lot of people get by this winter, and beyond.

These are the kinds of items they would always be in need of:

  • spaghetti and other pasta products
  • spaghetti sauce (preferably with vegetables or meat)
  • canned meats (like tuna or chicken)
  • shelf stable milk that doesn't need refridgeration (something like Parmalat)
  • canned and dried beans
  • peanut butter & jelly
  • hot &cold cereals
  • pancake mix & syrup (get the "complete" kind that doesn't require eggs)
  • rice
  • canned fruits and vegetables
  • soups and stews (stuff with lots of meat & vegetables)

Just think healthy & nutritious, and don't give anything that you wouldn't eat. This is not an invitation to clean out your pantry of all your unwanted crap. They don't want your dust covered cans of gourmet liver paté and jars of pickled baby corn, that neither you nor your dog would eat.

If you are giving anything that requires something else to make it a complete meal, be sure to buy the other item to go with it, such as is the case with stuff like pasta & sauce, pancake mix & syrup, peanut butter & jelly, and cereal & milk.

When in doubt, contact your local food pantry and ask what they need most, or if they are willing to accept an item you may want to provide, before you make your purchase.

Probably about the easiest way you could do this, is to just pick up at least one extra non-perishable meal each week, when you do your shopping for your family. Then drop off the food you bought at your local pantry, on your way home.

If you are having trouble locating a local food pantry near your home, pick up your phone and call churches in your neighborhood. Many of them serve their community by running a food pantry.

Most do not require the people they serve to be a member of their church or even hold any religious beliefs, at all. And they don't use it as an opportunity to preach their flavor of religion to the people they serve, either. So if you are an athiest/agnostic, this shouldn't be an issue for you. Don't let it stand in the way. (Who cares why churches help, as long as they help and do it fairly.)

Read More:
American Spaghetti Crisis: Part 1
Other articles, news, and information resources

Thank you, Chris Lang, for reminding me that I forgot the college students.

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