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By Henry A. Barrios/ The Californian
By Jose Gaspar
Fourteen years ago, Rose Rangle was married and had four children. With both Rose and her husband out of a job, the family fell on hard financial times and depended on food stamps and government aid for survival. Times were rough.
"It's very stressful, it's depressing sometimes when you can't feed your children," said Rangle, who has since recovered from those difficult days.
Those days, however, are not forgotten easily. She and her husband at times would forgo eating so that their four kids would have enough to eat.
Too many people in Kern County, it turns out, have hunger pains.
Ironically, in one of the richest agricultural counties that produces food valued in the billions of dollars each year in the richest state in the nation, Kern County has the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of "food hardship" in the country, reports say.
"What I find on a daily basis is people aren't aware that Bakersfield has the largest number of people insecure in the nation," said Chris Stille of the Kern Food Policy Council, which develops efforts to ensure a sustainable food system here.
Simply put, more than a quarter of people living in Kern County don't know where their next meal is coming from.
Stille points to a 2012 report "Food Hardship in America" released earlier this year. The survey by the Food Research and Action Center in Washington, D.C., asked respondents, "Have there been times in the past 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?"
Bakersfield and the rest of the county came in at No. 1 in the nation with the highest rate of people going hungry. Kern County came in at 26.7 percent, Fresno was No. 5 in the nation with 22.4 percent and Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario at No. 6 with 22.3 percent.
Out of the top six places in the nation with food hardship, the Central Valley had half of those places. Not good.
As part of Hunger Awareness/Action Month, which just concluded, the Kern Food Policy Council along with other local social agencies such as the United Way organized an event called "Hunger Awareness Night" at the Maya Theater. The idea was not just to raise awareness about this serious issue in our county but to emphasize that families need access to healthy nutritional foods, not just the cheap, calorie-laden processed stuff.
And it screened the critically acclaimed documentary "A Place at the Table," which chronicles the consequences of hunger in America.
If you haven't seen it yet, go get it. The folks have good reason to raise awareness about hunger. Because as so often happens, politicians often play a role in this, for better or worse.
Just last month, 217 Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to cut food stamps. The bill would cut $40 billion from the food stamp program over the next 10 years, limit recipients to just three months of benefits before being cut off, and require adults between 18 and 50 without children under 18 to enroll in a work-training program or find a job in order to get benefits.
Bakersfield Congressman Kevin McCarthy voted for the bill. Why?
"I believe all federal programs should be routinely reviewed and scrutinized to ensure that they are effective and serve its intended purpose, and root out waste, fraud and abuse," was the email response from McCarthy's office.
Rooting out waste is one thing, but throwing the baby out with the bath water is another issue.
No Democrats voted in favor of cutting food stamps, nor did 15 Republicans who did not follow the party line. Among them was Republican David Valadao of Hanford.
"Without this assistance, many in my district would be unable to feed their families," Valadao stated in a press release.
Today in Kern County there are roughly 58,700 families receiving food stamps, where in 2007 that number was 27,900. In six years that is a 91 percent increase, according to the Kern Food Policy Council.
The Republican effort to cut $40 billion from the food stamp program is disappointing, said Della Hodson, CEO of the United Way of Kern.
"This would have a serious impact on families who are struggling to feed their children," said Hodson. No doubt it would, with children most likely to suffer the brunt of the cuts.
But hunger isn't limited to just the poor.
"Bad things happen to good, hard-working people," said Pam Bernhart with Community Action Partnership of Kern. "You could lose your job or have a sudden unexpected expense and need help to feed the family, and we are designed to help for a short-term crisis," she said.
It was enlightening to see people caring about others at the event at the Maya. Raising awareness about a problem that can be humiliating, degrading and embarrassing is worth learning about.
Jose Gaspar is a reporter for "KBAK/KBFX Eyewitness News" and a contributing columnist for The Californian. These are Gaspar's opinions, not necessarily The Californian's. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.