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Hungry for the holidays: millions without food during Christmas season

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 27 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

Matthew Mead, Associated Press

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More than 17 million food insecure households could have a hard time finding a warm meal this holiday season. This is because the food banks that distribute to food pantries, soup kitchens and emergency shelters are dealing with unprecedented shortages.

The shortages are the result of a severe drought in the Midwest which, according to one political reporter, is one of the "most consequential — and under-reported — stories of the past five years." More than half of the country was under moderate to extreme drought this summer, the largest area of the contiguous United States affected by such dryness in nearly 60 years, according to a New York Times report.

This summer's crop-damaging weather has driven up costs for everything from grain to beef. The government’s forecast, based on a consumer price index for food, estimated that prices will rise 4 to 5 percent for beef with slightly lower increases for pork, eggs and dairy products, reported the New York Times.

But higher prices at the grocery store aren't the only result of drought-related shortages. The U.S. government has less need to buy key staples like meat, peanut butter, rice and canned fruits and vegetables to support agricultural prices and remove surpluses, according to Reuters.

Typically most of those government purchases are sent to U.S. food banks. This year since there isn't any surplus for the government to buy, the food banks are feeling the pinch. Reuters reports that the "decline in government donations is exacerbating the pain inflicted by stubbornly high unemployment and a lack of income growth for many low-wage workers."

Directors of food banks around the country worry about their ability to keep up with demand. In a sign of how stressed the budgets of many Americans are, a record 47.1 million people used food stamps in August 2012, up from 45.8 million the year earlier.

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