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Hometown Hunger USA

Posted: 03/31/11 09:02 AM ET

The information just released by Feeding America paints a horrific picture -- the reality of hunger in America. According to the USDA, an estimated 50 million Americans are food insecure, including nearly 17 million children. It is morally reprehensible that millions of people in our own backyards and every Congressional district across this great nation of agriculture abundance struggle with not having enough to eat.

What is often overlooked amidst this tragedy is that almost half of the food insecure have incomes above the typical threshold for SNAP, formerly called food stamps, and one in three food insecure households have income above the threshold for most government nutrition programs, including free and reduced price school meals. The only option for the millions of people facing this situation is to rely on charitable assistance, such as that provided by food banks.

To some we are a curious pairing but what we have in common is a moral commitment to do our best to ensure that every man, woman and child on the planet has access to adequate, nutritious food. We are husbands, fathers, businessmen and philanthropists who have born witness to social ills around the world and recognize the moral cost of the escalating crisis of hunger in this country. There is no hiding the fact that the number of Americans who are uncertain about where their next meal may come from, or do not have access to healthy food, is at an all-time high. We are committed to helping those Americans in need of food; these are everyday people who have stumbled upon hard times and need our collective help -- now perhaps more than ever.

As we pursue our work with Feeding America, we have observed a "gap" across varying geographic populations in our country as it relates to food insecurity. Sadly, there is a growing percentage of the food insecure population that is not eligible for federal nutrition programs. The good news is that Feeding America's latest research gives voice to that gap and sets the stage for the entire country to move forward in a unified effort to eradicate hunger. This timely research released today in a study called "Map the Meal Gap," provides a quantifiable identity to the often invisible faces and plight of the 50 million food insecure across our country. It draws attention to those very vulnerable areas that experience both very high rates of food insecurity and high food costs -- 44 counties in this country fall into the top 10 percent in the nation of both of those categories. The convergence of this data, skyrocketing USDA statistics on the food insecure, and the increasing number of people that Feeding America network serves daily, highlights the profound problem we face nationwide.

Map the Meal Gap is a phenomenal tool for those active in the fight against domestic hunger at the county, state and national levels because it provides detailed data that can help local communities tackle the unique circumstances in their area. The study provides an innovative and focused lens through which hunger is redefined by looking at the gap between food insecurity and food security. It is the only study presently available that estimates food insecurity at the county level, which is tremendously important given the varied socio-economic sectors across the country. Not only does Map the Meal Gap present a "first-ever" debut of food cost variations across the nation's communities, it offers statistically valid data on the number of food insecure people by income-bands that are based on well-recognized and key factors such as unemployment, poverty, and minority status.

Map the Meal Gap affirms that hunger is much more than a matter of individual choices. County-level infrastructure (e.g., food stamp outreach, food costs, wages and employment opportunities) significantly affect the likelihood that families will become food insecure. This new data will help communities target the federal programs that best meet the needs of their community and will help communities develop public and private solutions to gaps in existing services (for example, increase mobile pantry or mobile summer food in rural areas). With the number of people experiencing hunger as high as it is, it is critical that we protect the nutrition safety net and focus on leveraging federal programs at the county level.

As we move forward collectively, each of us must be willing to share responsibilities and resources to achieve sustained results in reducing and preventing hunger and food insecurity. Today, we are calling upon everyone in America -- the business community, policy makers and the public -- to do what they can to help people battling hunger in their communities. Hunger is in each and every one of our backyards, and Feeding America's Map the Meal Gap study illuminates for the first time in history the needs of Americans facing hunger at the county level. No one should go hungry.

Visit the map at FeedingAmerica.org.

Ben Affleck, is an actor, writer, director, activist, and a member of the Feeding America Entertainment Council. Howard G. Buffett is a U.S. farmer and operates the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, a private foundation that primary supports humanitarian initiatives worldwide.