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May all feast in America

The country needs to pull together to fill food banks that are facing a critical shortage.

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Around the Thanksgiving table, friends and family will thank the cook for perfectly parsleyed potatoes or glorious gravy ("How did you do that"?). But for those dining on donations from a food bank, gratitude will be especially meaningful – if, that is, there's enough food.

"There simply may be no food for many families when the rest of the nation gathers to celebrate Thanksgiving and religious holidays," said Vicki Escarra last week. Ms. Escarra is president of America's Second Harvest, a national food-bank network and the country's largest domestic hunger-relief charity. The group's 200-plus food banks report "critical shortages."

In the rush to feast and merriment during the holidays, it's easy to overlook the basic needs of many Americans. Last week, the US Department of Agriculture reported that 35.5 million people in the United States were hungry or on the verge of hunger in 2006 – more than a third of them children. That's more than 1 in 10 residents in this bountiful country and, sadly, an increase of 400,000 from the year before.

In the same week, Second Harvest released a state-by-state look at child hunger. Analyzing data from the Census Bureau, it found that 18 percent of children 18 years old or younger were hungry or at risk of hunger from 2003 to 2005. Twelve states had rates of 20 percent or above (including cornucopias California, Texas, and Iowa).

Nearly 15 million children receive free school lunches. And local churches, civic groups, and food banks fill the backpacks of about 50,000 children with food to take home on Fridays. But holiday vacations can interrupt this care.

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