The nation's largest food bank network, America's Second Harvest, says more than 25 million Americans received meals from their emergency food system last year. The findings come in the organization's report, which was issued Thursday.
Ertharin Cousin, executive vice president for America's Second Harvest, says Americans she describes as "food insecure" are all over the country.
"One of the most startling things we've found is that hunger is not the typical face that Americans think about, it's not necessarily homeless people living in inner cities or urban areas," said Ertharin Cousin.
America's Second Harvest represents about 39,000 hunger relief organizations, most of them run locally by churches and private non-profit groups. For its report, the organization last year interviewed 52,000 people at food banks, soup kitchens and shelters across the country.
It counts 25 million individual Americans who visited one of these places to receive a free meal, which is eight percent higher than the organization's findings four years ago. Of this number, nearly 40 percent came from households where at least one person is working. Those seeking food included nine million children and almost three million elderly.
Cousin says although the problem of hunger in America is not as serious as in other parts of the world, it is still important that people in other countries realize there are food problems in the United States too.
"Of course, hunger in America is not the kind of starvation you see in other parts of the world, particularly in developing countries," she said. "But the type of the hunger that we talk about is where the resources of a family or an individual put them in a situation where they can't or don't know how to access their next meal."
U.S. government reports also show that the number of hungry Americans is increasing. A U.S. Department of Agriculture report released last year said 13.5 million American households had difficulty providing enough food for family members, at some time, in 2004. This number was up 11 percent from 2003.