Soon, people across the United States will gather around the Thanksgiving table with family and friends to indulge in abundant, delicious food — and to give thanks for their many blessings and freedoms. Typically, we eat and drink to excess and enjoy leftovers that will last for days. Dinnertime conversation ranges from expressing gratitude for our good fortune to discussing politics, sports, recipes and the upcoming December holidays.
Not everyone is celebrating.
Thanksgiving also presents an important opportunity for family and friends to reflect on another topic: income disparity and the growing divide between American haves and have-nots — especially as it relates to food and hunger. While we might not be facing a literal “famine” in this country, critical food needs routinely go unmet.
Recently, the U.S. Social Security Administration released some staggering numbers about pre-tax income in 2014:
- 71 percent of all U.S. workers made less than $50,000
- 62 percent made less than $40,000
- 51 percent made less than $30,000
- 38 percent made less than $20,000
Based on U.S. Department of Agriculture food budgets designed to meet minimal nutritional standards, the official federal poverty level for a family of four is $24,250. According to the Center for Women’s Welfare, however, this official level is out-of-date — and inadequately depicts what it actually costs to provide for a modern family’s basic needs.
The CWW publishes an alternative measure, the Self-Sufficiency Standard, which determines the actual amount of income required for working families to meet basic needs at minimally adequate levels without public assistance. This measure takes into account family composition, ages of children and geographic differences in costs. The standards have been established for 37 states, including Colorado.
The Colorado Center on Law & Policy determined the self-sufficiency standards for the state. In Denver, for example, a family of two adults and two young children must earn $63,069 in order to be self-sufficient and make ends meet. That number varies depending on where in the state a family lives.
Other statistics to consider at Thanksgiving include:
- In 2014, 48.1 million Americans lived in food-insecure households, including more than 15 million children. This means that one of every six Americans, and one of every five children, lacks consistent access to adequate food.
- Forty percent of the food in the United States goes uneaten. Americans throw away a pound of food per person, per day — or well over 100 billion pounds of food per year. This number does not include the huge amount of produce discarded by millions of backyard gardeners.
Everyone can help.
I mention these hunger statistics as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday not to assign guilt, but to raise awareness of the challenges experienced by so many of our neighbors in communities throughout the U.S. When conversing about the usual subjects around the Thanksgiving table, you might want to add the following questions. After all, “All great change in America begins at the dinner table,” according to former President Ronald Reagan.
- What is our responsibility to do more to help others who are food-insecure?
- What opportunities do we have to help assure that the less-fortunate have sufficient food?
- As the December holidays approach, could we set aside a portion of the money designated for gifts to be contributed to a common “family and friends” cause — one that will help provide food and other basic necessities for the less-fortunate in our community?
- Can we pledge to do this every year — widening our circle of participating family members and friends?
Funds can be contributed to many organizations dedicated to the fight against hunger in Colorado and the U.S.
Let me take this opportunity to wish my readers a wonderful Thanksgiving, surrounded by family and friends. At your dinner table, you’ll probably give thanks for the abundance in your lives. I hope you’ll also consider how you and yours can help those with less to celebrate — and less to eat.
Nonprofit of the month: Colorado Gives Day
Colorado Gives Day is a statewide celebration to increase online giving. For the sixth year, Community First Foundation and FirstBank are presenting Colorado Gives Day on Dec. 8, 2015. Donations are accepted at ColoradoGives.org, which features more than 1,800 nonprofits. Colorado Gives Day is one the most successful events of its kind in the nation. Since its inception in 2010, the event has raised $83 million for Colorado nonprofits.
Bruce DeBoskey is a Colorado-based philanthropic strategist working with The DeBoskey Group to help businesses, families and foundations design and implement thoughtful philanthropic strategies and actionable plans. He is the president of the Colorado Philanthropic Advisors Network, a teaching fellow with Boston College’s Center for Corporate Citizenship and a frequent speaker at conferences on philanthropy.