Food insecurity, income disparity hurt neighbors

01/12/2014 5:00 PM

01/12/2014 5:55 PM

The new year began at the Lord’s Table a lot quieter than in the past.

Two regulars at the soup kitchen died in 2013. Francis and Roy were well-known and liked by volunteers and patrons at the Lord’s Table in the basement of Trinity United Methodist Church.

For years they came on Saturdays when the doors opened to enjoy the afternoon meal with about 25 to 50 other patrons. Francis, a big man, often returned for seconds.

Then long after many others had gone, he and Roy would sit at the round tables and talk. No subject was off limits.

I’d clean the tables, put chairs back in place and listen. I didn’t realize until this year at the Lord’s Table how much I’d miss those guys and how close the volunteers and patrons actually are. It’s like a family, and when a member of that community dies those who are left grieve.

What I’ve also learned from more than two decades of volunteering there is that most of the men, women and children who come for the free meal aren’t homeless. But they are what the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls “food insecure.”

It means their access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources. Department of Agriculture data for 2012 showed that 14.5 percent, or 17.6 million U.S. households, were food insecure. Also, 10 percent of U.S. households with children were food insecure.

Some of the people arriving at the Lord’s Table drive cars. Some ride buses. Some are on bicycles. Some walk to the Armour Boulevard church. What they share is a need for a warm, well-balanced meal. The Lord’s Table provides that thanks to volunteers who plan, cook and serve the food.

It is not unusual that a disproportionate number of the people coming to the Lord’s Table are African-American and Hispanic. The Department of Agriculture notes that households with children headed by single women or single men, and black and Hispanic households had food insecurity rates that were “substantially higher than the national average.”

Food insecurity rates for Missouri at 16.7 percent also surpassed the national average. Kansas’ 14.4 percent mirrors the U.S.

It’s not an accident. The poverty rate in the U.S. remains stuck at at 15 percent, or 46.5 million Americans.

That means more than 1 in 7 people in the U.S. lives in poverty. It’s worse in Missouri, where about 1 in 6 and more than 1 in 5 children lived in poverty in 2012.

Blame it on the widening wealth gap. The top 1 percent of U.S. residents pulled in 19.3 percent of all household income in 2012. The last year the top 1 percent snagged that share of pretax income was 1927 — just before the Great Depression — when it hit 18.7 percent, according to an analysis of Internal Revenue Service figures by economists at the University of California-Berkeley, the Paris School of Economics and Oxford University.

Incomes in 2012 for the top 1 percent rose 19.6 percent compared with a 1 percent gain for the remaining 99 percent. The stock market boom in 2013 didn’t help. About 80 percent of the wealth in it is in the hands of the richest 10 percent.

I sometimes saw Francis at St. James Church mass at 39th Street and Troost Avenue. I’ll think of him when the new pope, the first from the New World, speaks. Thank goodness, Pope Francis is an advocate for the poor and a voice against the growing wealth disparity.

“A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table but above all to satisfy the demands of justice, fairness and respect for every human being,” he said last year. “Among our tasks as witnesses to the love of Christ is that of giving a voice to the cry of the poor.”

Although our friends Roy and Francis are gone, we will think of them and the income injustice in our world every time the pope rallies people toward change.

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