Some American Military Families Are Going Hungry, Relying On Food Pantries For Basic Groceries

"Can you imagine being deployed and you're in the Persian Gulf, or you're in Iraq right now, and you're worried whether or not your kids are able to have a meal?," said Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth.

a soldier hugs a young girl
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"Can you imagine being deployed and you're in the Persian Gulf, or you're in Iraq right now, and you're worried whether or not your kids are able to have a meal?," said Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth.

Some American military families are going hungry, relying on food pantries as well as donations from family and friends to make ends meet, NBC News reports. There’s no single reason for this, and it’s likely the result of a confluence of several factors. But one Illinois Senator, Tammy Duckworth, wants to put an end to it.

Desiree Mieir, a mother of four whose husband is in the Navy, says that she’s had to cut corners to make ends meet. She doesn’t have cable TV, and often leaves the air conditioning off. She says she knew going into her marriage that her family wouldn’t be wealthy, but she didn’t know it would be like this. “I didn’t know I’d have to try this hard,” she said.

Mieir is not alone. Thousands of military families, perhaps even tens of thousands, or more (the Defense Department doesn’t keep track of these things), rely on food stamps, donations,and even food pantries to put food on the table.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in San Diego. Every Monday, the Feeding San Diego food truck arrives at a nearby elementary school to hand out donated food. Dozens of people line up, many of them in uniform, to take home free food to feed their families.

It’s difficult to pin down how widespread the problem is with no official Defense Department data. Instead, NBC News looked at the problem indirectly: by looking at how many children in Defense Department schools get free or reduced-price lunches. According to Pentagon figures, a third of children in those schools are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches.

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There are multiple reasons for this problem. For one thing, some military bases are in cities with a high cost of living, like San Diego. For another, the life of a military family is one of constantly moving; this makes it difficult for military spouses to advance in their own careers and contribute a sizable second income to the family.

Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth is outraged. Herself a former military helicopter pilot, she has been working with California Representative Susan Davis to make some changes to a defense spending bill that would increase the pay of service members whose incomes are at or below the poverty line.

“We should say if you come to the military, your kids are going to get a good education, you’re going to get good housing, and your kids are going to be fed,” she said.