Unemployed are turning to food pantries as holidays approach.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
The stately red building that houses St. Mary’s Church in Pacific Grove sits among neat bungalows overlooking the bay. It’s hard to imagine anyone going hungry here.
But when volunteers open the church food pantry on a recent Friday afternoon, a small group has already gathered in the church courtyard, waiting to pick up groceries.
Anna Arnold sold trinkets to tourists in a Cannery Row gift shop until last December, when crowds thinned and she was laid off. Now she and her boyfriend, who still manages a Cannery Row candy store, depend on donations of bread, canned goods and produce at St. Mary’s to make it through the month.
The number of people like Arnold who seek help at local food pantries has jumped this year. Last October, nearly 4,500 people in Monterey County picked up emergency rations. This year the county’s food bank served 15 percent more, according to Leslie Sunny, the food bank’s director.
“We’ve always served the unemployed, and now more and more are falling into that category,” she says.
Unemployment currently stands at 10 percent and will rise as the agriculture and tourism seasons wind down in the coming months. Recently, she’s heard an increasing number of people say, “I used to be a donor, and I can’t believe I have to turn to you for food.”
Arnold worries what will happen when she loses her jobless benefits, adding that she’s on her second extension. “It’s scary not knowing how long unemployment will last,” she says.
Social services staffers are bracing for a rise in homelessness when the latest extensions for those who have been jobless for more than 18 months run out in mid-February.
Rachael Wiseman, eight months pregnant with twins, and her husband, an unemployed construction worker, have already lost their housing, and live in their car, while their 6-year-old son stays with family friends. They’ve come to St. Mary’s hoping to get to Arizona, where they can all live together under one roof with family. The Peninsula, Wiseman says, offers little opportunity for getting off the streets. Waiting lists for housing subsidies are years long. The family can’t get welfare because they have no fixed address. Wiseman has even approached child protective services, but social workers can’t help because her son isn’t abused or neglected.
St. Mary’s volunteers handed Wiseman a $50 gas voucher, but as Thanksgiving approaches, she figures that she and her family need nearly $200 more to get out of town.