- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 3, 2006

The holiday season is now upon us, and I cannot help but think about my family and other former Gulf coast residents still scattered from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

For the second holiday season in a row, my family will not celebrate together at my Dad, Lionel’s, house in the midcity section of New Orleans. My sister Lisa, who is now in possession of my late Mother, Jean’s, gumbo pot, will likely stir up a wonderful meal in her Katrina trailer outside New Orleans and drive 90 miles north to Baton Rouge to share it with other family members.

There’s no question my family is lucky. We’re fortunate to have food on our table and even more fortunate that we have resources to help others in need. The importance of helping others is something my parents taught us as children, and we will never forget the pain of growing up poor in America.

Now that the dust has settled and political euphoria has waned (somewhat), some interesting news is being released from good ol’ Uncle Sam. A week before Thanksgiving, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released some controversial information on hunger, and introduced a new phrase to describe a growing problem — the “lack of food security.”

According to the USDA survey, there has been an 8 percent drop in the number of Americans at risk of hunger. Feel good? You shouldn’t. Just read their press release. That decrease is likely a result of confusing terminology and an unreasonably strict redefinition of “hunger.”

The study discloses that more than 35 million of our neighbors, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews are hungry or living on the brink of hunger. Their number includes 12 million American children. In cities, suburbs and rural communities, hunger is an unfortunate reality for many families. And it’s time we ask our leaders to refocus attention on ways we can eradicate it in our lifetime.

Fighting hunger requires immediate action. “Insecurity” implies there is time for detached commissions and removes any sense of urgency. Because no one would accuse this administration of overreacting to domestic problems, we surely don’t need to provide excuses for it to move even slower in dealing with the hunger crisis in our communities.

While government seems confused, we understand instinctively that 35 million hungry Americans require immediate action from us, as individuals. Yet the issue was almost nowhere to be found during the election season, where wedge issues dominated. Hence, verbal gaffes, book passages and a Playboy party garnered greater attention in the mainstream media. Fat chance things will change in the coming presidential marathon.

It took the powerful winds of Hurricane Katrina to expose the government’s lack of preparedness for a major disaster. The USDA survey exposes that more than 1 in 10 people in the United States are hungry (but just don’t call it that). We can’t control the water or the winds, but we can control whether we allow fellow Americans to starve in our midst or go without proper daily nutrition. This holiday season, while the politicians gear up to return for a brief lame-duck session, why not ask them to pay attention to this economic and social disaster?

Let’s remind them that hunger is pervasive in our communities. Millions will not share in the feast, and countless others will find their Thanksgiving fellowship at soup kitchens. While this may conjure images of the homeless on the streets of our cities, in 36 percent of the 25 million households Second Harvest serves with its network of food banks, at least one adult has a job. This means more than one-third of the hungry are the working poor, folks we see everyday and folks who, despite their hard work, cannot make ends meet.

We can do better.

Second Harvest, the nation’s largest charitable hunger-relief organization, is close to my heart as it provided much needed food and nutrition to my own family back in the day.

‘Tis the season of giving, and you can help by going through your pantry and donating unused canned goods to a local food bank or by volunteering at your community soup kitchen. Remembering and caring for those less fortunate isn’t confined to a season, and until we truly eradicate poverty and hunger in our midst, it is everyone’s responsibility to lend a hand. For more information, please visit www.secondharvest.org to find the food bank closest to you.

Am I my brother’s or sister’s keeper? The true scandal of our times is that we still must ask this question.

Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR, contributing columnist to Roll Call newspaper and former campaign manager for Al Gore.

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