On a frigid morning in Washington, DC, two boys about 13 or 14 come to the driveway of the Ambassador Baptist Church, where the day’s meager food offerings are displayed. They scrounge through boxes of celery frozen from the cold, bananas, yogurt, sour cream, iceberg lettuce and day-old pastries, which are also half-frozen. “I don’t like yogurt,” one boy says. He and his friend fill their cart with lettuce and bananas and disappear down the street.
One in three children living in the District of Columbia doesn’t get enough calories and is poorly nourished, according to Lynn Brantley, who heads the Capital Area Food Bank. Often they have no evening meal. Some 9 million children a year are now showing up at food pantries, shelters and soup kitchens, according to America’s Second Harvest, the umbrella organization for the nation’s food banks. “It’s a horrifying trend when our agencies tell us that they are buying high chairs for the first time, and kids are coming in on their own looking for food,” says Pat Barrick, marketing director for City Harvest in New York City.
The elderly, too, are turning up at food pantries in record numbers, for the cost of growing old in America has gone up. Men and women living into their 80s and 90s have seen incomes that were fixed long ago shrink relative to skyrocketing costs for basic needs. Claudia Lennhoff, who directs Champaign County Health Care Consumers, an advocacy group in Champaign, Illinois, says elderly clients need medicines that must be taken on a full stomach, but often they ask, “Do you think it will hurt if I take it without food?”
And all over the country the homebound elderly, too infirm to cook or walk to a food pantry, are on waiting lists for home-delivered meals. Sometimes people just coming home from the hospital die before their turn comes up, says Leah Monson, who runs a home-delivered-meals program in Whittier, California. But waiting lists are not likely to disappear, and the percentage of old people who are poorly nourished–some 40 percent, according to the federally funded Institute of Medicine–will increase.