Throughout most of 2009 we at Harvest Hope worked hard to feed the many hungry South Carolinians who came to us for emergency food relief. We saw that the lines were getting longer and that more and more people were showing up at our Emergency Food Pantries and at our partnering agencies’ food relief locations. It was obvious to us that the number of people in our community affected by the current economic downturn and thrown into financial hardship and nutritional despair was increasing exponentially. But now we are seeing data proving just how frightening and overwhelming the situation really is.
On Friday, January 22 the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and the SC Employment Security Commission released year-end unemployment rates, and the data confirms what we have already seen to be true: an incredible amount of people in South Carolina have lost their jobs and more continue to lose their jobs every week. As of December 2009, South Carolina showed an unemployment rate of 12.6 %, the fourth highest in the country. 273,175 South Carolinians are out of work. Our state shed over 50,000 jobs in the last year, with many counties in Harvest Hope’s service area showing levels of unemployment greatly in excess of the national unemployment rate of 10%.
The average unemployment rate for the 20 counties served by Harvest Hope is 14.77%. The ten-county Columbia service area shows an unemployment rate of 12.1%, while the eight-county Pee Dee service area shows a rate of 17.44%. Marion County is the hardest hit in our service area, with an unemployment rate of 22.8%.
According to information just released by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), South Carolina was fifth in the nation for families suffering from food hardship in 2009, with 22.4% of the state’s population reporting they did not have enough money to buy food. Columbia was 15th in the nation, with 20.7 % of families suffering from food hardship.
These are the economic conditions that drive the lives of individuals and families into disorder. They are forced to scramble to meet their most basic of needs and compelled to make choices and sacrifices they are unaccustomed to. The most basic human physiological needs (taking in nourishment) are suddenly weighed against secondary safety and security needs (providing reliable shelter and a modicum of comfort). According to acclaimed psychologist Abraham Maslow’s theory on the Hierarchy of Human Needs, people usually try to fulfill physiological needs (eating) first, then seek to satisfy safety and security needs (shelter) second. But economic hardship often reverses those needs, working against basic human nature. People do not want to lose their homes, and do not want to force their families into the elements, and economic disorder drives them to make a decision to choose between food or shelter.
The people, the families that come to us for help, do not want to beg for food or assistance. Everyone wants their lives to be in order. They want self sufficiency, to put a reliable roof over their heads, to pay their bills, purchase food and provide for their own medical needs. They want to be productive members of society. Our records over the last year reveal that over 70% of our clients come to us no more than three times as they worked through their periods of disorder.
As I said, our clients do not want a handout. They want to know they are self-reliant and then feel good about themselves. A further and critical level in Maslow’s Hierarchy is meeting and achieving needs related to personal esteem. People want to feel good about themselves. They want to know they have confronted adversity, made difficult decisions, swallowed some pride and asked for assistance they previously thought they would never need, worked through their period of hardship and put their lives back in order. We have helped them meet the most basic and primary of needs in the Human Hierarchy and they can find comfort and esteem in knowing they are on the road to self-sufficiency.
That’s the service we provide, the value we give to their lives. By providing food at a time of crisis and anxiety, we give them the chance to focus on other critical priorities in order to meet the basic human needs of shelter and security. We allow the means for them to move through their period of crisis and adjust to their new circumstances. From there, they will provide their own means of self-reliance and esteem.
I believe that people desire to be self sufficient with the ability to choose their own foods, pay their own bills, choose their own medical care and take charge of all the sundry factors that influence their lives. I don't believe people desire to suffer the embarrassment of having to come to a charity to obtain free food. But sometimes life throws us all curve balls and we have to find ways to meet our most basic of needs. It is a huge blessing to have church food pantries, soup kitchens, emergencies shelters, free medical clinics and other non- profit organizations providing these most critical of basic needs when jobs are lost and families are hit the hardest with overwhelming struggles.
Next week we will release the results of a year-long hunger study with information gathered by Feeding America and Harvest Hope and compiled by Mathematica Policy Research. This report will detail specifics, enlightening and frightening, explaining who our clients are and the conditions that impel them to come to us for assistance. This information is timed to release with other Feeding America food banks across the country. Be sure to check back for insights into the lives of those who find themselves in need of the vital humanitarian service we provide.
I look forward to sharing with you again next week.
Because thou shalt forget thy misery, and remember it as waters that pass away. ~ Job 11:16
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. ~ World Health Organization, 1948
For more information on Abraham Maslow:
For more information on the Food Research and Action Center: