Talk Newspaper: By Jeff Golden

"New data depicts Oregon as one of the hungriest states in the country, with statistics showing big jumps in Southern Oregon residents needing food stamps and other assistance."

Online Tidings, Nov. 19 "Numbers of Southern Oregonians in need rises"

How is the economic crisis hitting you so far? If you're one of the slight majority of Americans who owns equities, you're probably worth 20 to 50 percent less on paper than you were last summer. I'm sure you're laughing merrily at all the hilarious jokes about 401(k)s becoming 201(k)s. You may be thinking your retirement plans are toast or even wondering if you'll be able retire at all.

Your may be in tougher straits than that. Any number of forces might be shrinking your income or, unless you work at Walmart, making your job less secure. You might be losing confidence that you can get your kids through college. Your game plan for paying off your mortgage might be blowing up — you could be two or three payments behind right now. You might be half-expecting a knock on the door from someone who's going to make your life much less pleasant if you don't give him money.

All kinds of things that were never supposed to happen to you could be happening right now.

Some of you may have lost jobs or homes already. But for the most part, the pain so far has been in our heads. What's now becoming clear is that it's spreading to more and more stomachs. Rogue Valley agencies report demand for emergency food supplies jumping 25 to 30 percent above last year, which saw big jumps from the year before (which saw jumps from the year before ...). The biggest increases come from neighborhoods in and near Medford, but Ashland and Talent are part of the trend, too.

Unlike much of what you read here, this isn't about competing economic theories, or who does and doesn't deserve bailouts, or the cascading crisis of global capitalism. This is about people who don't have enough to eat. So let me ask you to let go of whatever else is luring your thoughts at this exact moment — if you should get up to reheat your cup of coffee, whether you'll finish the raking today, who you have to call this afternoon — and concentrate all your attention on one question: What does this spreading hunger mean to you?

The question comes within the confines of this assumption: A rapidly-growing number of people in our communities, through no real fault of their own, can no longer feed themselves and their families. Is that a reality that the rest of us, worried as we might be about our own finances, are willing to accept?

If we are, let's be honest, as in, "I'm sorry for these folks but it's not really my problem" — an answer I prefer to lip service without action.

But if we're not, then what does refusal to accept spreading hunger look like? What are we prepared to do?

These aren't rhetorical questions. I'm not sermonizing here — I don't do nearly enough myself about hunger to sermonize — and I'm not offering up big solutions. I'm not sure there are any. I'm asking you to sit with these questions and use the online forum or letters column to tell us what comes up.

Some of you will want to look in the rearview mirror and describe what brought us to this point — tax codes twisted by huge campaign contributions, the abandonment of anti-trust enforcement, the job-killing rush to corporate globalization that in a single generation has transformed America from a nation that reliably rewarded hard work to an engine that constantly widens the gap between the few who are wealthy and the many who struggle. OK. I'll agree with you. But political analysis won't ease one child's hunger tonight.

On the other hand, it can shape the substance of the coming "change we can believe in," so give us your take on what government should be doing. But aside from that — more immediately than that — what should you be doing? What are you ready to do, starting today and tomorrow? What are you already doing that could inspire the rest of us?

Get creative. Assume we can do remarkable things. Stay focused on the reality, clichéd as it may seem, of children going to bed desperately hungry. Not out of your reach in Central Africa, Biafra or Honduras, but in Ashland, Phoenix, Medford and White City.

Tell me the truth: Is this any of your business?

Jeff Golden is the author of "As If We Were Grownups," "Forest Blood" and the new novel "Unafraid" (with excerpts at www.unafraidthebook.com) See story quoted above at: www.dailytidings.com/2008/1118/stories/1118_pm-update-need.php