Food Bank Donations Down
There’s not enough food or funds to feed the hungry in Monterey County.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
July 1 marked the end of 807,135 pounds of food that made its way annually to the mouths of hungry babies and children in the county. This time last year, First 5 Monterey County, which funds programs that enhance the development of children in their first five years, donated $140,000 to the Food Bank for Monterey County to pay for that food, as First 5 had done every year since 1999.
Last month, Food Bank officials learned that their organization would soon be cut off from First 5 money collected from Proposition 10 dollars. (Because of the 1998 ballot measure, California smokers pay an extra 50 cents per pack of cigarettes to fund First 5’s child care and early education programs for young kids and their families.)
First 5 made its decision to yank the cash from the Food Bank after a series of community meetings. Feeding Monterey County’s children, First 5 officials said, just wasn’t high on residents’ priority lists. Ironically, dissemination of nutritional information was. And so, the 1,168 hungry families who benefited monthly from the donated funds will have to get their meals from other programs.
Food Bank Executive Director Leslie Sunny’s frustration is palpable. “I guess that means we should be feeding these families pamphlets, not food,” she says.
While the $140,000 grant doesn’t seem like much money considering the Food Bank’s annual budget of $1.4 million, the loss comes at a particularly bad time.
“People are very generous in November and December,” Sunny says. “Unfortunately, by the time summer comes, we’re busy with vacations, weddings and graduations. The whole issue of hunger isn’t at the top of the list. On top of that, most people don’t want to acknowledge that hunger happens in Monterey County. That’s third world countries, not here.”
It is here. According to the Census Bureau, 4,539 working Monterey County families live in poverty, including 19.9 percent of all Monterey County children under 5.
Currently, the Food Bank feeds 4,230 families every month, up from 3,892 families five years ago. But while the number of needy families steadily rises, the amount of food available rapidly declines. In 2002, there were 1,542,449 pounds available for Monterey County families. Today, there are 580,704 pounds available.
By way of example, Sunny says, a family that used to leave the Food Bank with 25 items in their grocery bag now leaves with just 15.
The next couple of months will be an important transition time, as the Food Bank seeks out new donations to fill the widening gap between the hungry and available funds. “Our next strategy is identifying new companies or individuals who have the ability to give,” Sunny says.
While nearby counties like Santa Cruz, Santa Clara and Alameda make hefty annual donations to their respective food banks, Monterey County hasn’t donated money to the Food Bank in over a decade. Fortunately, others are stepping up to the plate without being asked, like the Rotary Club of Monterey Pacific. Last week, the Rotary kicked off a food drive, Hunger Doesn’t Take a Summer Vacation, to benefit the Food Bank. The goal is to raise 5,000 pounds of nonperishable food items between now and Oct. 1.
Rotary president John Mims says his group jumped into action after learning there was an urgent need for food in Monterey County.
“Whether we choose to see it or not, hunger happens here,” Sunny says. “Right here in our own beautiful backyard.”
TO MAKE A MONETARY OR FOOD DONATION, VISIT FOOD4HUNGRY.ORG OR CALL 758-1523.