Talk Newspaper: By Jeff Golden

Two columns ago we talked about hunger. It's getting worse across the nation and especially in Oregon. Food banks are flooded with more and needier families each week as incoming donations dwindle. And this is the holiday season, when we're generally more conscious of the problem and readier to give. What happens in the first months of 2009, after we've put away the tree ornaments and the "Peace on Earth" cards, as this "recession" — the word's becoming a euphemism — grinds its way up the economic ladder to strip the savings of more people? Those in the business of feeding hungry people in this valley are deeply worried.

What I asked in this space was whether this suffering has anything to do with you. If it does, I said, "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?"

With one exception, you said yes. The exception: "Why do you imply that 'we' need to do anything other than what we've always been doing? Our present situation is simply the result of an overgrown, inept, corruptly self-interested and undisciplined parasitic governing class run amok. What should WE do? An honest answer would probably earn me a visit from the Secret Service, IRS or other 'organs of the state apparatus.' Welcome to the future, Jeff; it will look a lot like the worst of the 20th century." (An overgrown, inept, corruptly self-interested and undisciplined parasitic governing class run amok? But other than that, they're good people, right?)

I'd argue with this anonymous reader that hunger has more to do with government's surrender of every tool that has kept corporate capitalism from running over the top of working people, from anti-trust enforcement to banking regulation to labor's collecting bargaining rights. But I'm guessing none of that's very interesting to families lining up in the cold fog outside of Oregon food banks for thinner and thinner rations.

Other readers were less interested in pointing fingers than getting a few more people fed.

"The coupons one can purchase for the hungry at stores are nice," wrote one, "but I think also bins should be included in each store. Each time we shop we can buy a bag of beans or rice "¦ for these bins."

Another focused on food from our own ground: "For the volunteer group that harvests fruit from the community yards "¦ a few dehydrators to dry the fruit for distribution during the winter. I'm sure many greenhouses in the area could be offered out for multiple use in Ashland. Put the land to use alongside of one's house to grow winter vegetables."

"The fire department," wrote a third, "has a list of families where they deliver food and toys. Likewise, a family could 'adopt' another family. Deliveries could be either made individually or in groups, depending on travel factors and individual preferences."

And there was a reminder that we could lighten this up. "Parties as a fundraising idea is one that appeals to me because people like me with little money can contribute and also have fun. Here's an idea for one: Lyrics and Music. And it would serve more than one purpose. Any given musical expression is loved by many, hence, it would bring people together from different socio/political/economic classes — people could get to know one another more intimately. While 8 people at $5 isn't much...it's a lot better than nothing and it adds up."

If the first commenter above is reading this column he's probably rolling his eyes. Coupons, donation bins, dehydrators, musical parties to "bring people together" for crying out loud. Don't these people know that American hunger is the twisted by-product of a bought-and-paid-for political system that their cute little gestures won't touch? Maybe they don't. Maybe they do, but step up anyway because they have the ability to feed at least one person, like the boy tossing a single starfish back into the sea. Maybe ending hunger takes both the political work of those enflamed by the systemic abuses (and are ready to do more than complain about them) and the personal decision to feed the hungry person standing in front of you.

And if there's nobody actually standing in front of you? Here's an easy task you can complete in the next five minutes without a shred of doubt or confusion: write a tax-deductible check to ACCESS (779-6691, 3630 Aviation Way, Medford 97504). They'll stretch it to fill more than a few stomachs.

Jeff Golden is the author of "As If We Were Grownups," "Forest Blood" and the new novel "Unafraid" (with excerpts at www.unafraidthebook.com).