While America may be known as the "land of plenty," millions are still finding it difficult to buy basic groceries. But an army of faith-based organizations and other non-profits are fighting back to make a difference.
"People come to us looking for a well-balanced, nourishing kind of meal and we just keep serving until the food runs out," said Mana Masters, with First Lutheran Church in Norfolk, Va.
First Lutheran has teamed up with other local churches to provide hot meals to the public. Lunch is served every day of the week.
"For a lot of people, this is it," Masters said. "This is their only source of food."
The 15-year-old ministry helps many homeless people, and with today's economy, those numbers are growing. The Department of Agriculture reports that 49 million Americans are struggling to put food on the table. Often, they're eating poorly, or simply eating less - another sign of today's tough economy.
Helping the 'Underemployed'
"People are desperate," Masters added. "Incomes are dropping and they're relying on the grace of churches and volunteers and people in their community to support them."
As high unemployment continues, many non-profits are working over-time.
Martha Gorman's Ghent Area Ministries helped 700 more clients this year than last. Food bag requests tripled. The problem, Gorman said, is not just job loss -- but fewer hours and benefits.
"I have so many people come in the door and say, 'I'm $2 over the limit for food stamps.' And you think, what?" Gorman said. "And they have a family of four or five to feed.
Debby Fava is one of those people. She works two jobs, seven days a week to provide for her disabled husband and daughter. Yet, Fava has a secret weapon -- Angel Food Ministries.
Angel Food Ministries distributes 500,000 boxes of food to churches around the country each month. The restaurant-quality food is often half price, and available to anyone who orders.
"At the end of each month, I have to look at: what do I pay, I need to keep the power on, I need to have food," Fava said. "And just the opportunity to have food at a lower price has been an absolute blessing."
"The $30 box has a little bit of everything," said Kelsay Shepard, an Angel Food customer. "It has the frozen veggies. It has the meat. It has chicken breasts, steak, cereal, eggs."
Helping the 'Underqualified'
Shepard lost his job at a furniture store months ago. He's now an experienced job seeker.
"I've applied for jobs that I'm qualified for, underqualified for, overqualified for," Shepard said. "It's just not a good time to be job-hunting."
Angel Food, along with odd jobs and food stamps, is keeping Shepard afloat, for now. Shepard, like so many Angel Food customers, wants no part of soup kitchens or food banks.
In that respect, he's typical of many of today's hungry. People simply seeking a hand-up, not a handout.
"It's not a giveaway -- they have to buy it," said Pastor Jim "Bubba" Pugh, with Rugged Cross Cowboy Baptist Church in Virginia Beach, Va. "So it's giving dignity to folks when they come in. I eat it myself, so it's just great. I haven't lost weight yet!"
Helping the hungry can take so many forms. One group, Hunters for the Hungry, takes advantage of hunter's bounty.
It's an age-old idea: hunters bring in what they can't eat, butchers process it and distribute the meat to local non-profits.
"It's quite a gourmet item," said Richard Edmondson, with Hunters for the Hungry. "If you go to buy farm-raised deer, it's in the $6 to $7 a pound range."
Across the country, hunters are catching the concept, and bringing in high quality protein that so many cannot afford.
Helping Their Neighbor
Other non-profits, like Operation Blessing International, help move food from suppliers to food banks. Last year it transported 60 million pounds.
No one knows exactly how many non-profits are meeting food needs, let alone how many individual Americans are helping their neighbor.
However, with the number of hungry at the highest level in years, these ministries are keeping stomachs full -- and no doubt nourishing hearts and minds as well.