People going hungry here, in the world’s richest nation? The words seem impossible to go together, but a new report this week shows it’s true.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 49 million Americans, including almost 17 million children, experienced “food insecurity” last year. That obscure term means that one may not always be hungry, but one doesn’t know where the next meal will come from, if at all. The report also showed that 1.1 million children were indeed outright hungry during the year. The numbers were reported to be the highest since 1995, when the USDA began tracking.

Because the economy bottomed out last spring and the worst of the job losses occurred this year, volunteers at food pantries report that the problem of hunger in America is probably worse now than in 2008.

The problem is serious but not insurmountable. Catholic social teaching offers an important place to start. The principle of subsidiarity states that civil structures and private organizations at the local level should do as much as possible in their sphere. State and ultimately national governments should support and defer to the local levels as much as possible.

Nutritional Development Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia makes a significant contribution to combating food insecurity in the communities and neighborhoods of this region.

The agency brings private donations of food by Catholic families and parishioners to families who need it. In a separate way NDS leverages government contracts to operate child nutrition programs locally. This partnership shows how subsidiarity and generous giving can best utilize finite resources to address real human problems.

As we approach the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, parish food drives, school children, boys’ and girls’ scouting clubs and many other groups are soliciting donations of food for the needy. While all the donations will make their way to families, many are likely to be processed foods with a long shelf life.

Along with your donations of canned and boxed food, consider donating gift cards purchased from supermarkets as a way to help needy families obtain fresh vegetables and fruit. In a time of uncertainty about jobs and the struggle to pay bills with limited money, families are stretching their budgets to the limit. In the case of food, meals might be skipped and the lowest quality foods eaten by necessity.

Each of us can play as big a role in easing the minds of parents worrying about having food in the house as we do in filling stomachs with good things, themselves the gifts of God, the source of all that is good.