Local nonprofits feed more mouths with fewer dollars.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
’Tis the season for roasted turkeys and hams, decadent cookies and crab feasts. But not for one-fifth of Monterey County residents.
It’s a sad dichotomy: people going hungry in the salad bowl of the world, in a county that hosts premier food and wine events where some exlusive dinners cost upwards of $5,000 a plate.
“The need is worse than ever,” says Leslie Sunny, executive director of the Food Bank for Monterey County. “I’ve been saying that for three years. But the numbers support me.”
In December 2007, Sunny says, the Food Bank served 5,800 households with its emergency food assistance program. This December, it will give food to as many as 9,000 households. Recently, 1,500 families waited in line to receive bags of food at St. Mary’s church in Salinas, an all-time record.
Meanwhile donations are down. Sunny says the Food Bank used to get a semi-truck full of food every two weeks. “Now I get that same truck once every four or five months.”
Ag Against Hunger distributes fresh fruits and vegetables to local food banks through surplus donations and its gleaning program, which brings volunteers to the fields to pick edible produce left behind after commercial harvests. But individual donations are down, too, between 20 and 30 percent. The nonprofit doesn’t receive any state or federal dollars.
While Meals on Wheels of the Salinas Valley delivers healthy meals to anyone 60 or older who can’t shop or cook for themselves, regardless of income, Executive Director Janine Robinette sees a growing need among her clients.
“Five years ago, 82 percent were low-income and this year, 96 percent are,” Robinette says. “For December, 50 percent are at the federal poverty level.”
The need is not only in Salinas Valley. Before founding the all-volunteer Hope Center Food Pantry for Monterey County, the only Monterey-based emergency food bank, Kim Lemaire discovered one in 10 kids in Carmel received subsidized school lunches. Hope Center gets fresh produce from Ag Against Hunger and buys food from the Food Bank at discounted prices.
Lemaire and four other moms came up with the idea to open up shop, but their kids, who also volunteer, came up with another important mandate: “We have to feed pets.” Now the Hope Center also distributes pet food (the SPCA recently stopped its similar program and now refers people to the Hope Center) and baby supplies.
Since the food pantry opened its doors in 2010, the number of clients has more than doubled, and it usually feeds about 250 a month. Many are single parents with kids, a large number are seniors and about 80 percent have pets.
“There are a lot of people who come to us who have never had to ask for help before,” Lemaire says. “It’s a very humbling thing, because we could all be there tomorrow. The face of hunger looks like your neighbor; it looks like you.”