The New York Times reported Monday that in 2008, hunger in the United States was the highest in 14 years when the government started monitoring the level. According to studies, one in seven families struggles to put enough food on the table.

The government uses the term "food security" to qualify the level of need in households. The number of families with children who are experiencing "low food security" is more than half a million. This means that those families are lacking funds to get enough food, and are forced to skip meals or cut portions.

"We saw the numbers yesterday and it was extremely sobering. We knew the numbers would be high, but I don't know if we really knew what to expect," said Gladys Alcedo, communications coordinator for the Connecticut Food Bank.

According to the Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County, one out of every five children in Connecticut is hungry or at risk of hunger. In lower Fairfield County, hunger rates have doubled in the last two years.

As a result, in Connecticut, agencies are experiencing a 30 percent increase in demand for food assistance this year. The Connecticut Food Bank and similar agencies in the area are struggling to keep up with that demand, especially since donation levels have dropped in conjunction with the failing economy.

Luckily in this affluent community, the bad economy may have done some damage, but most people in Westport are still in the black, financially speaking. While some might be making the same amount, or maybe even a little less than they did two or so years ago, for most, there is enough left over to give back and help out struggling neighbors. They just need to take the initiative to actually get out there and help.

The Connecticut Food Bank has launched its Thanksgiving for All 2009 initiative, hosting events all over the state to help as many families as possible have a Thanksgiving dinner.

Included will be its Star 99.9 "Food for Friends" Thanksgiving Food Drive, which will take place Nov. 24. Donate frozen turkeys and food for those in need while meeting Star 99.9 radio personalities at Stop & Shop Supermarket in Westport, from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 1790 Post Road E.

For those unable to attend any of the Connecticut Food Bank events, the warehouse in Fairfield is extending its holiday hours to be able to accept donations and to allow volunteers to sort and distribute food. The local drop-off location for the Food Bank is 74 Linwood Ave., Fairfield. Call (203) 256-1935 for information.

To find ways to help prevent hunger in Connecticut, visit the Connecticut Food Bank Web site at www.ctfoodbank.org. Included is a list of events in the area.

Homes with Hope, based in Westport, also runs a food pantry and community kitchen. It is also in need of donations this year. Friday marks its Share the Pie event, in conjunction with the Conservative Synagogue. People can purchase a variety of pies, provided by Rick Dickinson, owner of Great Cakes of Westport, and Paola and Jason Garelick, owners of Garelick & Herbs/Thyme for Kosher. Proceeds from this community fund-raiser directly benefit Homes with Hope. Visit www.ihawestport.com or call (203) 226-3426 for information.

The Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County is in "desperate need" of turkeys right now. According to its Web site, it has less than 10 turkeys in its freezer -- it normally donates 7,000 turkeys each year to member agencies and programs, but the need has risen to 9,000 this year. Visit www.foodbanklfc.org for information.

Operation Hope's Food Pantry is another place to send donations. Right now it needs more than just food for its customers -- all kinds of household supplies are needed, specifically toilet paper. Donations can be brought to 636 Old Post Road, Fairfield, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Then on Nov. 28, state Rep. Tony Hwang, Fairfield Community Theatre Foundation Founder and President Leo Redgate and Operation Hope are hoping area residents will come to the Fairfield Community Theatre to see Elf, staring Will Farrell. Admission is a non-perishable food item or $5. The food will go to the Food Pantry, and the cash donations will go toward the purchase of holiday gifts for children at Operation Hope's shelter. Visit www.operationhopect.org or call (203) 292-5588 for more information and to see a list of the organization's upcoming events.

If none of those options is possible, consider hosting your own food drive. The Connecticut Food Bank and the Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County Web sites provide a list of items to collect, and plenty of ideas for hosting a successful drive.

So many individuals and groups are volunteering their time to collect food for those in need -- check in with this newspaper each week to find various events your neighbors are hosting.

Anything you can give this season will help.