BOSTON — THE good news is that a great many children and adults in the United States don't go to bed hungry every night.
The bad news is that there are nearly 26 million of these Americans who have to get food from food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and other food programs served by Second Harvest, a 185-member national food-bank network. Based in Chicago, Second Harvest is the largest hunger-relief organization in the US.
Released this week by Second Harvest, an 18-month study of the thousands of emergency food programs in the US found that 10.4 percent of the population now has to be provided with food. And 45.5 percent of the food recipients did not expect to need food assistance as little as three months ago.
Christine Vladimiroff, the president of Second Harvest, said: ``We're seeing many first-time users of the charitable network for food, or the government network, who are professional middle managers and have been laid off.... [They] can't pay the rent and food for a full month.''
The study revealed that 31.6 percent of the households receiving food help have someone in the family who is working, but that 73 percent of the households earn less than $10,000 in annual income. While the poverty rate between 1989 and 1992 rose 5 percent in central cities, it increased 21 percent in the suburbs.
``There is clearly enough food in this country to feed everybody,'' said Bill Shore, executive director of Share Our Strength, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit relief organization. Poverty is the basic problem, he says, adding: ``There is a lack of equal access to the resources that will give people food security.''
Knowledgeable sources say what is needed is the political will and the creation of jobs that pay enough to sustain a family. ``And this means improved economic conditions,'' Mr. Shore says.
Ms. Vladimiroff's hope is that the Clinton administration will eventually make the hard decisions to put people and children first in the welfare and budget discussions. ``Over 42 percent of the hungry are children,'' she said.
Typically, many people find that they need food assistance when a series of problems impair their economic position. ``Sure, there are people who have become dependent on food assistance and show up again and again,'' Shore says, ``but many people lose their job, or have a health problem and then lose their job, and can't support their family any longer.''
Both Vladimiroff and Shore conclude that there is a general awareness of hunger, and Vladimiroff says ``especially at holiday time.'' But awareness needs to be increased. ``We're hoping that this and other studies will bring the reality of the hungry to the public debate on welfare reform and help reweave the social fabric,'' she says.