Expand giving to all season

The data-crunching website WalletHub has compiled a list of the best and worst cities in America when it comes the number of people in need.

To no one’s surprise, the neediest populations are in places like Detroit, New Orleans and Brownsville, Texas.

Also not surprising is that five of the 10 cities with the smallest population of needy people are here in California.

No Santa Barbara County city is on the list, which is both good and bad. What it means is that, while there is affluence in abundance, there also is poverty — a problem the folks at the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County struggle with every day, not just the Christmas holiday season.

Foodbank is involved in a school lunch program that feeds thousands of kids from lower-income families each school day. It is estimated that only a fraction of the students who receive school lunches have access to nutritious lunches during the summer break. Thus, the organization runs the summer Picnic in the Park.

Nearly three-quarters of county households needing food assistance must make a choice between buying food or paying for other necessities, among them transportation, utility and medical bills.

There’s a fair chance those of you reading this editorial don’t have to make such difficult choices. But just imagine yourself in a situation in which you had to choose between food and paying bills. Try to imagine persistent hunger for a working head of a household, who makes decisions about whether to buy food or pay the rent.

It can be difficult to imagine such choices this time of year, but even harder when you have to make them with a stomach growling from lack of food.

The Foodbank and the 300-plus charitable agencies it supplies with food help an average of about 140,000 Santa Barbara County residents each year — or more than 25 percent of the county’s total population. Nearly 50,000 of those served are children 17 years and younger. More than 21,000 are seniors 60 years or older. About 17 percent of the total are military veterans, many of whom have served in wartime. These are shameful numbers, and we need to join forces to do something about it.

Last year the Foodbank distributed about 9.4 million pounds of food, with more than half of it fresh produce. An army of 600 volunteers chipped in more than 20,000 hours of time and service, the only way the good done by the Foodbank can be accomplished.

Most any kind of healthy food is a prime candidate for donation. Whole grains, vegetarian fare, fruits and vegetables, and animal protein-rich foods are optimal.

The agency had its usual holiday food drive, starting before Thanksgiving, but hunger is not a seasonal phenomenon. It’s a constant in our communities.

Donated food is good, but cash donations can be better. Foodbank’s pros can convert a donated dollar into about $7 worth of food, thanks to advantages afforded by buying in bulk.

Food and cash donations can be taken to the Foodbank’s Santa Maria warehouse at 490 W. Foster Road, weekdays from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. A list of acceptable food donations is available online at: donate.foodbanksbc.org

This is a situation in which the entire community plays a critically important part. Together, those of us who can afford to donate food or cash can help ease what has become a serious problem for so many Americans and their families — even in reasonably affluent communities like our own.

Giving is easy, and the reward is beyond measure.