Nightly News   |  November 27, 2009

Hunger, America’s ‘dirty little secret’

Nov. 27: Food pantries and soup kitchens across the U.S. say they are have never seen such demand for food, as a growing number of Americans are hungry for economic relief… and are simply, hungry. NBC's Mara Schiavocampo reports.

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>>> there's really disturbing news just out this time of year on the amount we waste in this country. a new study is estimating about 40% of all the food produced in the united states is thrown out, thrown away. 40% of it. and yet a survey from the u.s. department of agriculture reports 1 in 6 americans say they don't have enough to eat. nbc's mara schiavocampo spent time with one middle-class family that could be called the new face of hunger.

>> reporter: for so many people these days grocery shopping is a reminder of what they cannot afford.

>> my name is susan. i was purchasing in purchasing. and i was laid off.

>> how much do you generally spend when you come to the grocery store ?

>> it depends on how much i have. i spend 150, i would say, a month. that's what i was spending a week.

>> reporter: to stretch her unemployment checks she uses coupons on sale items and often buys discounted produce.

>> these are damaged. they might be -- have parts on them.

>> reporter: it's the best she can do to feed her three kids, fiance, and his daughter.

>> do you have breakfast every day?

>> no.

>> sometimes no.

>> maybe five days out of the week they don't eat breakfast. prior to this they were eating three meals a day and having two snacks a day.

>> reporter: vass is the new face of hunger in middle-class american. she owns a home in a connecticut suburb that looks like a norman rockwell painting. now about five days a week she eats at a soup kitchen , where there are so many others like her.

>> how often do you come here?

>> every day. this is the first time i've ever been down like this.

>> this area is where we will distribute the food.

>> reporter: food pantries like this one in new york city have never seen such demand.

>> we'll have about 500 or 600 families that use this space.

>> 500 or 600 today?

>> just today.

>> hunger in america is really kind of dirty little secret .

>> reporter: vicki izquera heads feeding america, a major hunger relief organization. she showed us around a 90,000-square-foot warehouse storing food for distribution in new york, a fraction of the charity's nationwide effort.

>> this crisis we're dealing with involving 49 million people is likely to take a couple years to begin seeing recovery.

>> i don't know how long -- how much longer i can handle it. there's all these people that can't even buy just a box of cereal for their kids.

>> reporter: and that's a frustration shared by a growing number of americans hungry for economic relief. mara schiavocampo, nbc news, branford, connecticut.

>> and if you'd like to help families who don't have enough to eat in your area, you can find a list of food pantries and other organizations nationwide. there's one near you, and there's need near you. it's all on our website, nightly.msnbc.com.

>>> you know those familiar salvation