People go for handouts in richest US county

Wendy Latham checked off a wish-list for her family: cereal, diapers for two-year-old Cole, bread, pizza and, in an ideal world, turkey and other fixings for Thanksgiving dinner.

But Latham’s world is far from ideal: she is one of hundreds of residents of Loudoun County in Virginia, the richest county in the United States, who have to rely on handouts from a food pantry, stocked entirely with donations, to feed their families.

“Well, jeez, it’s been four years I’ve been coming here,” the 36-year-old told AFP.

“In all honesty, it wouldn’t be possible to get by without this place,” Latham said as she and husband Norman, 29, loaded up the family car with plastic shopping bags containing everything from Alfredo sauce to pasta, to a 10-dollar voucher for a small Thanksgiving turkey.

All the food, including a shopping bag of Thanksgiving dinner items, was donated to the Loudoun Interfaith Relief food pantry by well-off residents of the county, whose median yearly income of 111,000 dollars is the highest in the United States.

In July, when Norman Latham lost his part-time job as a driver for a parcel delivery company, the family’s income dropped from 650 dollars a month to 150 dollars a month.

The family has already signed up to receive food from Loudoun Interfaith Relief at Christmas, and Wendy has told her eight-year-old Skyler that he probably won’t get any holiday gifts this year.

“Every child has wants and needs, and I told him that we have to work on the needs this year,” said Wendy, who had a comfortable upbringing in Loudoun County and never had to worry about going without, until now.

“I asked Skyler if he knew why we’re here today,” she said.

“He didn’t understand. I guess we shield him from it a bit — mom and dad go without to make sure that he and his brother have food,” Latham said.

At the other end of the carpark, 31-year-old Patricia Quintana and her four children loaded up a large car with what looked like a dozen shopping bags full of food.

“I’ve never seen this place so busy,” Quintana told AFP.

“But it’s Thanksgiving and a lot of people don’t have a lot of money — like us,” the young mother said.

In a back room inside the food bank, a dozen volunteers pored over wish lists and scurried between shelves stacked high with canned and boxed food and a large kitchen island where plastic shopping bags were filled with food.

“We don’t anticipate solving the whole problem of hunger, but we try to make it easy for people to choose between paying bills and eating,” said Bonnie Inman, executive director of Loudoun Interfaith Relief.

In three days last week, the center gave out 1,400 bags of donated Thanksgiving meals and Inman expected the remaining 600 bags to be gone by Wednesday.

It was the first time the center had ever handed out so much food, said Inman, who has been working at the food bank for six years.

“Back in the day, it would be awesome if we got 32 families coming in. This is more than double that volume,” she said, looking out over the lobby area, still a hive of activity 15 minutes before closing time.

“It can be kind of overwhelming at times. It seems so unbelievable that people have to worry about feeding their families in such a wealthy county and in this day and age.”

Filipino construction worker Moises Comia, 47, waited inside the small entrance of the food bank as families filled in wish lists, handed them to volunteers behind a counter, and picked up bags packed with breakfast, lunch, dinner and specialty Thanksgiving items.

“Sometimes, I have work. Sometimes it’s very slow. I just need enough to live on, to pay the rent on my room, and I’m OK,” he said.

“This is very helpful.”

The food bank embodies what President Barack Obama said is the true meaning of Thanksgiving — “being thankful for what we have, and generous to those who have less.”

Around three percent of Loudoun County’s 300,000 residents live in poverty — less than 22,000 dollars a year for a family of four, according to the US Census Bureau.

The national poverty rate in the United States is 14.3 percent, the highest it’s been since 1994.
Source: AFP

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