Hunger and homelessness are major problems in the United States; about 3.5 million people are homeless at some point every year. About 1.35 million of these people are children, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. The homeless frequently struggle to access food, particularly nutritious food, and this chronic hunger can interfere with the ability of the homeless to perform basic daily tasks, which can lessen their likelihood of improving their lives.
About Food Insecurity
Food insecurity is a measure of people's ability to access healthy food on a regular basis. The homeless almost always struggle with food insecurity. Homeless people sometimes can't access government programs such the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- formerly called food stamps because they don't have an address, making it difficult to fill out paperwork and follow up on correspondence. The homeless sometimes rely on scraps, throwaways and food from passersby, and the nutritional status of these foods can be questionable. The Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program points out that homeless people often suffer from nutritional deficiencies. These deficiencies can cause chronic illnesses and perpetuate the cycle of homelessness by preventing homeless people from engaging in normal daily activities.
Food pantries provide food to families experiencing food insecurity, and accept canned and boxed goods with distant expiration dates that don't require refrigeration. Soup kitchens provide meals for the homeless on a daily basis, and frequently need food donations and volunteer servers and cooks. Local anti-homelessness coalitions and homelessness intervention organizations sometimes solicit food and financial donations to ensure that the homeless get healthy meals.
Healthy food can help the homeless combat the nutritional and caloric deficiencies they frequently experience. Ensure that food is not expired and offers a healthy, balanced meal. Non-perishable Items such as cereal, baby food, and canned goods are best. Avoid sugary and high-salt foods, and ensure that any food you donate has not been recalled, is not in a damaged container that could let in disease and has been thoroughly cleaned. While fresh fruits and vegetables might seem like good options, few organizations accept these perishable foods. Instead, donating canned fruits and vegetables. Donated food should not require refrigeration or freezing unless you are donating to an organization such as a soup kitchen that prepares and serves foods.
If you donate money to fund food programs to a qualified non-profit organization, you are generally eligible for a tax deduction. You may also be eligible for a tax deduction in an amount equal to the cost of donated food. Ask the organization for a receipt when you donate. Learn about an organizations before donating to ensure that a majority of donations go directly to providing food to the homeless; most organizations publish annual reports with information about where donations go.
- Goodwill Industries: Homeless Myths and Facts
- World Hunger Education Service: Hunger in America: 2012 United States Hunger and Poverty Facts
- Florida Coalition for the Homeless: Food Safety for the Homeless
- National Coalition for the Homeless: Definitions and Statistics
- Oregon Food Bank: Frequently Asked Questions
- Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program: Nutritional Issues
- National Coalition for the Homeless: Hunger and Food Insecurity
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.