A different kind of bank is now struggling to keep up. With unemployment on the rise and more families fighting to make ends meet food banks are experiencing a severe rush. “There’s been a dramatic and sudden swelling of demand over the last six months,” says Sue Sigler, executive director of the California Association of Food Banks, which works with 45 food banks throughout the state.
Nationwide, food banks are recording an average 30% jump in demand year over year, according to Feeding America, the biggest hunger relief association in the country.
Here’s a closer look.
Visitors Run the Gamut
Folks seeking help these days, Rodgers says, include people who’ve lost their jobs or homes or both, and even some individuals who were donors at one time and now need to use the food bank’s services.
Donna Rodgers works at the United Food Bank in Mesa, Ariz., which tries to fulfill food orders for some 250 agencies in surrounding counties. This year Rodgers says United Food Bank’s fallen short fulfilling orders by about two million pounds of food. That’s up 47% from last year.
“We’ve seen the gamut,” she says.
Over on the East Coast, the Greenpoint Interfaith Food Team in Brooklyn, N.Y., says attendance at their food shelter has doubled year over year.
“We’re seeing a lot of people who do construction work, domestic workers who’ve been laid off, freelancers getting less work. We also see a large number of senior citizens,” says Ann Kansfield, a co-founder of the food agency and co-pastor of the Greenpoint Reformed Church in Brooklyn.
While many hope the stimulus plan will help the country’s hunger relief efforts, food banks are trying to improve conditions on their own. City Harvest, a food rescue and distributor of mostly perishable, nutrient rich food in New York City, says it is well on target to meet its goal of collecting 23 million pounds of food this year, a record for the organization.
“We went into this year knowing the economy would be rocky,” says Jennifer McLean, City Harvest’s director of program operations. By focusing on perishables and collecting food with very little shelf life, City Harvest is there to relieve local supermarkets and grocers each day with their leftovers.
The Greenpoint Interfaith Food Team is hoping to extend their hours of operation to serve those who are employed who can only stop by during evenings and weekends. And at United Food Bank they’ve just started a program called “Store to Door” that eliminates storing some perishable items at a warehouse, which takes up time, space and money. Instead, the food trucks go directly from the donor (for example, a local supermarket) to the agency that distributes the food. They’ve also started using alternative neighborhood distribution points, like a church parking lot or a local park. “It gives us a way to get food to [people] faster,” says Rodgers.