As part of my volunteer efforts at the local food bank, I'm doing interviews for the National Hunger Survey, organized by Feeding America (you probably remember it as America's Second Harvest, they recently changed the name). They do these every 5 years, to assess what's going on at America's food banks, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters, in getting food to people who can't afford to buy all the food they need.
So every few days, a small team of us, wearing our Food Bank T-shirts, shows up by appointment at a church, or a volunteer center, or somewhere similar (usually a church); and we use statistical techniques to randomly choose a small number of people from the group standing in line; and then we ask them questions. Some of the questions are standard census data: how old are you? Who else lives with you? Do you own or rent? Do you have a job? Then there are the questions that break your heart: How often in the last month have you gone hungry so the kids could eat full meals? How often have the kids gone hungry? Can you afford to eat balanced meals? Have you had to choose between buying food and paying rent? Buying food and paying for medicine? Buying food and paying for heat?
I've asked these questions in a tent on a sunny day, in a cold church in the rain (with buckets on the stairs to catch the drips from the leaking roof), in offices walled with unpainted pressboard, and standing with people in line, out of doors on a cold rainy morning. I don't know what mental image you have of the people who get free groceries; but I'm talking to Everyman. The landscaper with four kids, whose salary isn't quite enough to cover the groceries. The couple in their 70's, retired working man, own their house free and clear; their pensions and Social Security just aren't enough any more. The women with children in tow. Everyman's complexion tends to be darker than the American "norm", and he doesn't always speak English; but there are white people in those lines too, and only one of the people I've interviewed wasn't a citizen. (Sure, they tell us; we aren't ICE, we're the food bank.)
What are we doing to ourselves? To each other? We are the richest country on earth and we let people starve? We let children starve?
I don't have an answer for this, but when I was growing up, a family could live on one man's wages. How did we blow that away? How do we get it back?