More Bay Area adults and children
By Anna Molin, Bay City News Service
February 23, 2006
More and more Bay Area residents go hungry as stagnating wages
and exorbitant living costs force them to choose between paying
rent or buying food, according to a number of local studies in
a nationwide report.
The Watsonville-based Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz
and San Benito counties reported an 18 percent increase in people
who face hunger, meaning they are completely without a source
of food, as well as a 17 percent increase in people who experience
food insecurity, meaning they don't know where they will find
their next meal.
In four years, the number of people served by the Food Bank for
Monterey County jumped by 52 percent from 36,000 in 2001 to 55,000
in 2005, Executive Director Leslie Sunny said today.
The nationwide study, called Hunger in America 2006, was released
Wednesday and conducted by the Chicago-based America's Second
Harvest and the Princeton-based Mathematica Policy Research Group.
It found that more than 25 million Americans, including nearly
9 million children and 3 million seniors, receive emergency food
assistance each year from the network's various food banks, representing
an 8 percent increase since 2001.
"I think the big thing, and we already knew this, was the
increase in number of people who are food insecure and hungry
on the Central Coast,''
Lee Mercer, education and outreach director for the Second Harvest
Food Bank of Santa Cruz and San Benito counties, said today.
Another striking finding is the number of children who suffer
from hunger or food insecurities.
Out of the 323 food bank clients interviewed face-to-face in
Monterey County, 92 percent of households with children reported
having one or more experiences of suffering from lack of food
to feed their families and another 34 percent had gone hungry
without any food.
According to figures collected by the Alameda County Community
Food Bank, 35 percent of emergency food recipients are children
under the age of 18. With about 40,000 residents relying on food
assistance for their next meal, some 16,000 are children and another
6,144 are seniors above 50.
In Santa Cruz and San Benito counties, that number is slightly
higher with 39 percent children receiving food assistance and
11 percent seniors and disabled on a fixed income relying on food
"It's a sad fact that more children and seniors in our community
are missing meals,'' Suzan Bateson, executive director of the
Alameda County Community Food Bank, said in a statement.
"Additionally, earning a steady paycheck isn't enough to
keep many families out of food lines.''
Although some needy clients suffer from long-term unemployment,
including 41 percent of Alameda County recipients who've been
unemployed for more than two years, many families report having
at least one person working, including 38 percent in Alameda County.
Once again the number is slightly higher in Santa Cruz and San
Benito counties, with 41 percent of family households having at
least one employed adult.
"It certainly dispels stereotypes about who needs food,
like the conventional stereotype being homeless people,"
"It is actually a lot of working families."
Food bank representatives cite the Bay Area's high cost of living
combined with comparatively modest or low wages as the prime reasons
for the increasing numbers of hungry locals.
"The fact that we have so many people who live below the
federal poverty level when rentals and cost of living is so high
and wages so low is very striking,'' Sunny said.
Among the Food Bank of Monterey County's clients, 79 percent
reported living below the 2006 federal poverty level, which ranges
from $9,800 for a single-person household to $20,000 for a family
The Alameda County Community Food Bank found that 61 percent
of client households lived below the federal poverty line with
a median monthly income of $800. By comparison, the average monthly
income for all of the county's households is $5,144, according
to the food bank's local survey.
The nationwide survey along with the local reports noted that
many of their clients report having to pick between paying for
utilities, including electricity, and food.
According to the nationwide survey, 35 percent had to make the
choice between rent or a mortgage and food, while 32 percent said
they had to decide whether to pay for medical bills or food.
Despite the gloomy outlook, the food bank representatives offered
some ideas on how to alleviate hunger in their communities.
The Alameda County Community Food Bank suggested addressing the
root causes of hunger, supporting higher wages, improving work
and education and building affordable housing.
Mercer with the Watsonville-based food bank noted that efforts
on the national level are under way to address the federal food
program's complicated red-tape formula of income and assets that
sometimes leaves needy people without assistance.
Out of the 295 clients interviewed in Santa Cruz and San Benito
counties, 13 percent received food stamps, though 77 percent qualified
under the national guidelines, the study found.
Alameda County showed similar numbers with 21 percent of clients
receiving food stamp benefits, though about 70 percent have incomes
that make them eligible.
Meanwhile, Mercer urged the community to boost up food and monetary
donations to help the food banks grow stronger and more efficient.
The nationwide survey based its results on face-to-face interviews
with 52,000 clients seeking emergency food assistance and more
than 30,000 agency surveys across the country.
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