Economic recession and two wars make this a difficult Thanksgiving Day. Across America, military families are grappling with the loss of loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many more families are wrestling with the anxiety of losing jobs and homes. • But the power of this holiday remains the same: A moment to give thanks for the opportunities this nation offers, count our own blessings and share those with others who need our help in this difficult time.
Thanksgiving is remarkable for its enduring, simple traditions — the precious down time with family and friends, the moments to remember loved ones, the warmth of sharing comfort food. For all that has changed in the last 400 years, Thanksgiving still honors what is special about the human instinct — the capacity for people to come together to share, to reflect and give thanks for the fortunes they enjoy.
There is no denying that wars and recession have sapped the nation's energy and spirit. Americans are dealing with real emotional hardships, and the political partisanship in Washington has not helped. Yet, there are signs of recovery. The nation is on a timetable to leave Iraq, and it has told Afghanistan to prepare to take over its own security. At home, Congress is inching forward on adding tens of millions of Americans to health insurance rolls. And as rough as the past several years have been, the country has shown remarkable resiliency and thirst to continue its grand experiment.
But America will not recover overnight. Despite encouraging forecasts on jobs and housing, millions of Americans are in for tough times ahead.
The number of Americans who lack access to adequate supplies of food rose to 49 million last year, the most since the federal government started tracking hunger in U.S. households 14 years ago. One-third of those households had members who skipped meals entirely. Families in the remaining two-thirds resorted to eating cheaper foods or relying on food stamps or food banks.
The problem is evident in our public schools. More than 17,000 additional children qualified this year for free or reduced-price meals in Tampa Bay area public schools, a jump of 18 percent in Pasco County, 10 percent in Hernando, 8 percent in Hillsborough and 7 percent in Pinellas.
Food banks and charities are seeing more needy at their doors at the same time the recession has forced many Americans to cut back on their philanthropic giving. Metropolitan Ministries expects to feed thousands more families in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas than the 26,000 it served last year. Thousands more have sought assistance from the Salvation Army on both sides of Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay Harvest, which gathers and distributes surplus food to soup kitchens, is also working to meet the spike in demand.
These local charities are a lifeline in our community, especially since the recession has forced governments to cut back on social services. Families and friends, as they gather to give thanks this holiday, should also give what they can to these local charities. Between now and the Christmas holiday season, they will be the ones helping keep hope alive in Tampa Bay.