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Thanksgiving Action Against Hunger

WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

Across America, it is a week of dichotomy. For many, Thursday means a massive feast, but Thanksgiving also helps shed light on the 17 percent of Americans who struggle with food insecurity. Faith groups, low-income residents, anti-hunger groups, and Congressman Paul Tonko assembled today in Albany at Emmanuel Baptist Church for the annual Thanksgiving Action Against Hunger.

Mark Dunlea, Executive Director of The Hunger Action Network of New York State, explains that while Thanksgiving is the one time during the year when the community ensures that no one goes hungry, there are 364 other days in the year to consider.     "We want hunger to become an issue of a human right, in terms of right to food, rather than a matter of charity. We'd like to see the governor increase funding for emergency food, up to $40 million, a $10 million dollar increase,  and especially we need to turn the minimum wage into a living wage, which we think is $15 an hour."

FOCUS churches operates the largest food pantry in Albany at Emmanuel Baptist Church.  The activists say 1 in 10 people in the Capital Region are going hungry on a day-to-day basis, relying on food pantries, soup kitchens and the kindness of others to get by. Robb Smith is executive director of Interfaith Impact out of Albany:       "And because wages are so low, and the wage floor has been set so low, what we do is, we institutionalize poverty, we institutionalize hunger, and that's dangerous moral ground."

Congressman Paul Tonko, a Capital Region Democrat, agrees "the numbers are staggering" and "food is a human right". He says "tough times encourage tender responses" :   "We need to respond to the needs of those who are hungry in our society. Many times those are children, if not frail elderly, or disabled individuals, or underemployed and unemployed. So, there's a sense of social justice there."

Dunlea points out that every year the demand for emergency food goes up. He says the boxes are getting heavier, as the hunger-fighting activists get longer in the tooth.    "The reality is, many of the volunteers are the same people that were there 30 years ago. We're just not as active as we used to be. Certainly a lot of young people are active in other ways. Active in the Occupy Movement. Active in the climate change movement. But they're not very active in the food pantries and soup kitchen movement. And it just underscores that these are not the solution to hunger."

Daniel Platt of Occupy Albany says activists of his generation view hunger from a different angle.    "So the way the world is, times have changed. I'm younger. The way the world is, is the way I've always known it. So I have a  different perspective, that we need to change the way the world is, because that's all I know, all milennials know."

Platt believes the groups at the event aren't expressing how bad things really are for the hungry.    "For one thing, the food that they're able to provide, I would not call nourishing. It's basically the processed food that doesn't provide nutritional content."

But for now, that food is the only sustenance for those who otherwise would have little to eat.  And Dunlea says there's always room for one more person to help:    "Check out our website, hunger action nys dot org, give us a call... certainly we want people to volunteer at the area shelters, the soup kitchens and the food pantries, but also giving a call to Governor Cuomo, and say 'Give more money for emergency food, but particularly, make the minimum wage a living wage.'"

A spokesman for the governor did not respond to requests for comment.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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