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Originally published December 24, 2013 at 1:22 PM | Page modified December 24, 2013 at 1:23 PM

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Editorial: Make it Christmas in January

Donations to food banks plunge after Christmas. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Seattle Times Editorial

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THE line outside the Northwest Harvest food bank on First Hill stretched two blocks just before Thanksgiving, because everyone, regardless of income, wants a full belly on America’s eating holiday.

The food bank turns away no one, and could provide food to all thanks to the annual surge in charitable giving in November and December. Northwest Harvest, the nonprofit supplier to more than 360 food banks, receives at least half of its yearly donations in just those two months.

But Jack Wagstaff, manager of the First Hill site, knows from a decade of work at food banks what will come next. Donations in food and cash — which pays for things like the gas to go pick up donated food — fall steeply in January.

Yet the food bank expects to continue providing about 150,000 pounds of food a month, serving about 1,000 customers seeking groceries, and 1,000 more seeking sack lunches.

Providing food “to this community doesn’t end Dec. 25. The need continues in the new year,” he said. “In January, February, March, people are still coming in for food, and that’s when people are lowest.”

Hopelink, which provides food at five east and north King County sites, also sees a 58 percent drop-off in donations between December and January.

Food banks smartly stockpile canned food, stretching the months of plenty to cover the lean spring months. But in a region with more than its share of wealth, our keen sense of community should ease that need. A midwinter donation would be timely.

The food needs of struggling families will be particularly acute this spring. The percentage of families with limited access to a healthy diet, classified as food insecure, has risen steadily over the last decade to nearly 15 percent of Washington households in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. So has the percentage of families actually skipping meals. That is now more than 6 percent of households.

Their needs will become more dire because food stamps were cut in November, reducing benefits by about $36 a month for a family of four. Another $8 billion in cuts appear likely as part of a farm bill pending in Congress.

As families gather around the Christmas table, consider what a difference $36 would make in your meal. Not much? Then slip that into your January budget, and give it to a food bank.

“It is a basic human right for someone to have food,” said Wagstaff. Especially in a nation of plenty.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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