It was a gray morning in Washington, D.C., and Phyllis arrived at America’s Islamic Heritage Museum to pick up meat that is distributed to the area’s low-income community. Winter was coming soon, and she was already scrambling to find extra money in her budget to buy new coats for her children.

An all-too-common struggle

When you imagine what hunger looks like, the first image in your mind is probably not Phyllis: a well-dressed woman carrying an iPhone, with a home to return to and children who have something to eat — most of the time. Ten years ago, the U.S. government replaced the word “hunger” with the term “food insecure” to describe any household where, sometime during the previous year, people didn’t have enough food to eat. That number currently rests at 49 million — five times the number in the 1960s.

For Phyllis, avoiding hunger is making food stretch longer than it should and relying on handouts from charitable organizations whenever she can. “This is going to help my bottom line in my budget for this month,” Phyllis told Islamic Relief USA staff distributing the meat. “That money can go to something else I need.”

“As a result, those who are food insecure in America are often overweight, further disguising their struggle.”

Hunger has many faces

Understanding hunger in America is recognizing the struggle of single mothers like Phyllis, who walk a thin line from paycheck to paycheck, and often sacrifice basic comforts to put food on the table. They are families whose refrigerators are frequently empty and whose stomachs are often full of cheap, processed foods lacking nutrition but packing in calories. As a result, those who are food insecure in America are often overweight, further disguising their struggle.

The picture of hunger in America is different from the picture of famine in the developing world. It is often subtle, personal and easily undetected. Families suffer in silence only a paycheck away from a food pantry, desperately trying to get by.