My readers are an activist bunch, and I'm sure many of you have stories about food pantries near you that are struggling to keep going. Or maybe you volunteer with fuel assistance programs, which are also in dire straits with the rising costs of oil and natural gas. But the news is very, very bad. There are an increasing number of people who need food and fuel assistance, and a decreasing supply of money and goods.
"The Vermont Food Bank said its supply of food was down 50 percent from last year. "It's a crisis mode," said Doug O'Brien, the bank's chief executive.
For two weeks this month, the New Hampshire Food Bank distributed supplies reserved for emergency relief. Demand for food here is up 40 percent over last year and supply is down 30 percent, which is striking in the state with the lowest reliance on food banks.
"It's the price of oil, gas, rents and foreclosures," said Melanie Gosselin, executive director of the New Hampshire Food Bank.
Ms. Gosselin said household budget squeezes had led to a drop in donations and greater demand. "This is not the old 'only the homeless are hungry,'" she said. "It's working people."
Lane Kenworthy, a professor of sociology and political science at the University of Arizona, agreed, saying: "The overall picture is that household incomes are kind of stuck. There's very little way to increase income, and most people have a very heavy debt load. Any event that increases your costs is really, really troublesome, because you're already stretched thin."
All of this is particularly disturbing because right now, most food banks are in their biggest donation period of the year - now is when the food drives and holiday charity is going. If things are so bad now, how will they be in February?
For those of us who are long emergency aware, we know where the future is going - towards more hungry families and harder times. And so, I would ask all of us who have a little extra right now, who aren't feeling it yet, who still have our jobs and our houses and a good enough income to do so to pick up a little extra slack.
I hope all of us will bring a little of our stored food or our precious savings over to the food bank, or consider sponsoring a family for a tank of heating oil or some precious insulation this year.
Right now, 11% of the US population experiences food insecurity. Overwhelmingly the hungry are children, single women and the elderly. They are also the most likely to be cold - at Community Solutions I described an article I read recently in the Boston Globe, about pediatricians reporting more and more families caught in an endless bind - they cannot afford to heat their houses adequately, so their children are freezing. But the high cost of even minimal heating energy means they cannot feed their children adequately, so these kids lack even enough body fat to maintain their body temperatures, and suffer illness and hypothermia in their own homes.
This is most likely only going to get worse. But while we can we must mitigate the worst of this - we must tend our neighbors, check in on elderly family members, neighbors and friends and make sure they have heat and food, give our time, our garden surpluses, our spare money and food to the poverty support programs and people around us. Not only because it is the right thing to do, but because one of these days, it may be us.
The food bank in Manchester delivers provisions to a housing project each week, and on a recent Monday, Matthew Whooley, 26, of Manchester, was waiting in line with his wife, Penny, and their four children.
"Every week there's less and less food," Mr. Whooley said. "It used to be potatoes, meat and bread, and last week we got Doritos and flour. The food is getting shorter, and the lines keep getting longer."
We're already at the "flour and doritos" stage, folks.