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It's a year-round problem 

Every year at this time, newspaper and television reports detail how many turkeys and pies and trimmings will be handed out to people who are hungry. Times have been lean for a while now, but this year must have seen some sort of record in terms of donation shortages. One Colorado food bank that hoped to hand out 4,000 turkeys only had 100 or so a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving.

Stories about people going hungry seem to pop up at Thanksgiving and Christmas. To be sure, there is a certain urgency to the current situation. But hunger is not just a monthlong problem.

As Susan McConnell of the Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado points out, Colorado recently received the dubious honor of being one in 14 states in the country that experienced an increase in people going hungry. Over a three-year period, the rate jumped from 9.7 percent to 12 percent.

McConnell has more statistics that defy logic in the wealthiest country on Earth. In El Paso County, population of roughly a half-million, Care and Share knows that fully 75,000 of our citizens are at risk of being hungry. In the 31-county region it serves, the food bank the largest in Southern Colorado last year provided essentials to 89,000 people. Statistics indicate the actual number of people who do not get enough to eat is more like 130,000.

One-third of those going hungry are children. Fully 41 percent of the people who receive food and help from Care and Share are not what some in our community crossly dismiss as slackers and ne'er-do-wells. They are working families whose paychecks don't amount to diddly and can't make ends meet on what they bring home.

"Hunger truly is something that ought to be of concern to the entire community," McConnell says. "A child who is hungry and goes to school is not ready to learn. They are not focused, and they will not develop properly."

She paraphrases Barbara Ehrenreich, author of the book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, a book that surprise! found waitresses and hotel maids and house cleaners and nursing-home aides and Wal-Mart cashiers cannot make enough to keep a roof over their head.

"A community is as healthy as the people living there," McConnell says.

There is this other point to consider:

"My general observation is that, when it comes to charity, often the ones with the least give the most," McConnell says. "People will drive up in the most battered vehicle and just empty their pockets, and then will come back a couple of hours later with more."

That's not to say some big guns haven't stepped up. The Kreske Foundation, Gates Family Foundation, Boettcher Foundation, El Pomar Foundation and the Gay & Lesbian Fund for Colorado are but a few that have recently provided hefty contributions including for a new distribution center that will let Care and Share store far more refrigerated and dry goods than it currently does.

Meanwhile, the political arm of Focus on the Family, the Colorado Springs-based ministry and media empire, has continued its public indignation over retailers who refer to this time of year as the "holidays" instead of Christmas. For several years now, Focus on the Family Action, along with a handful of other influential Christian organizations, has raised Cain about this including supporting the notion of lawsuits against schools that refuse to allow the distribution out of candy canes.

Since shortly after Halloween this year, Focus on the Family Action's Web site has featured a video urging people to toss any "holiday" catalogs right into the trash. Their message: Being inclusive is offensive.

It's an interesting tradition for a Christian group to adopt. But if that's what keeps the group going, then so be it.

As for the rest of us, perhaps we can focus elsewhere. If you're at the mall in the next few weeks, look around and know that more than one person in 10 are hungry. Then think about how you can help fix it.

degette@csindy.com

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